Writing and the Conscious Mind

Yesterday I wrote about how I create. That involves opening the unconscious and letting it flood me. Today I want to write about what the conscious mind does with that flood.

It’s called technique, style, or—the term I prefer—craftsmanship. It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master.

To wit: writing good fiction requires both creativity and craftsmanship. Creativity is innate; it can’t be taught. But craftsmanship is a learnable skill required to produce a publishable manuscript, work that will engage a reader to the point that she forgets she’s reading. The rudiments of craftsmanship unique to fiction include how to use basic reference materials, formatting, copy editing, wording and structure, and especially the construction of dialogue.

In working on a manuscript, I first complete a draft, then start revising. The second and third drafts are usually written in the creative mode to assure that my vision is correctly and completely captured. In the fourth draft I switch to the craftsmanship mode, looking at correct spelling and formatting, overall shape and structure, pace and tension level, accurate word usage, sentence length, chapter length, correct and consistent use of point of view. I put the manuscript aside for some time—as much as a year with a novel—then do the next draft again from the craftsmanship point of view. Successive drafts shift between the two modes of writing until my creative side is satisfied that the manuscript is complete.

As a result, I spend something like 10 percent of my writing time in drafting new text and 90 percent of it in revising. It means reading aloud what I’ve written and listening for the way the words, sentences, and paragraphs come together.

I know I’m on my final draft when I start reading in the craftsmanship mode but the text moves me to the point that I read to enjoy the beauty of the words and story.

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