Why and How I Write (2)

I experience the writing process as if I were the passive recipient of signals from outside me. A dramatic moment comes to me, an awareness of an incident that moves me to the core. I write down the story of that moment, then consider what must have led up to it and what followed it. The full story flows from there.

The fictional characters who people my stories also come to me as if from an external source. They are already fully formed when they arrive, though they sometimes withhold from me some aspects of their personalities until I am writing about them. At times they come into my consciousness as part of the story that is revealed to me, at others I purposely insert them into the story. Occasionally they surprise me during the writing by doing things I wasn’t expecting. It is as though they are independent of me and will not allow me to dictate their actions or behavior.

Once a draft is finished, I start revision, still in the intuitive mode. As I work my way through the text, I might see that I failed to include relevant episodes or that the incidents I have recounted were the wrong ones. The text becomes more focused. I follow the same approach for the third draft. When I am persuaded that I have the story right, I put the draft away to cool for a week or two, so that I can return to it with fresh eyes. I don’t look at it or think about it.

When I return to the story, I switch modes to the intellectual or left brain. I try to see the writing as a reader or editor would, looking for ways to improve not the story but the writing itself. I reduce the girth by cutting or economizing. I look for variance in sentence type and length. I replace vague vocabulary with precise words. I sharpen and polish.

For the next revision, I go back to the intuitive approach and study the text for emotional precision. Is the overall feel right? Are the shifts in feeling properly placed? And I begin to ask myself: is this the story I really want to tell? Have I got the emphasis right? Does the structure and rhythm work to enhance the story?

More tomorrow.

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