Colleen’s draft prescriptions

Here is how I interface with my words, depending on the draft stage at hand:

  1. In the idea stage I let all ideas pulse freely. Like watching clouds pass in the sky. Loose associations should be allowed. No idea too crazy. The evil editor must be avoided.
    PRESCRIPTION: Hand writing. Maybe crayons. Big pieces of paper. I don’t just write words, I draw too.
  2. First draft stage I am beginning to give things a shape while also exploring possibilities. As a good typist, if I can put a blindfold on the editor, the computer is good for stream of consciousness exploration. I use the thoughtful atmosphere of a hand written page when I need to reflect more. There are pages in The Forty Watt Flowers that were so well thought out through hand writing first, they survived intact right up to the final draft with few edits.
    PRESCRIPTION: Computer for stream of consciousness. Hand writing for reflection.
  3. In the edit of a first draft I’m cleaning up the inconsistencies, finding the throughline.
    PRESCRIPTION: Work on the computer. Chop where I went overboard, expand where I need more. But I need discipline in how I work to keep the flow going. I try not to get distracted by the need to research or think through a moment. [I enter research or moments needing more thought in square brackets.] I also create a file called “cutaways” where I place edits, so I feel more free to axe because I can always get it back.
  4. Review first draft. I need to feel the shape in a more organic way. I can’t be tempted to start writing and editing, because I’ll fall into that rabbit hole and lose the point. I’m reading the draft through not copy editing. So, I print out a couple of chapters, go to a coffee shop and read. I find Copy editing marks really handy.
  5. First draft substantive revision is where I’m working on the shape of my story. Working on scrap paper, I jot out the components of story structure (ii, climax 1, 2, 3). Verify that all the components for my story type present. As in, if it’s a murder mystery there’s a murder, right? What starts the action? When does the main character open the door and commit to the story (about a third through). Who is their antagonist? Do I like that kind of story? At the end, how is the main character changed? What are the steps that get them there.
  6. Getting to second draft I’m back at the computer. Word processing software makes the computer ideal for re-arranging, moving blocks of text, re-ordering and so on.
  7. Review second draft: I read aloud fas if in front of an audience.  If I’m bored, I know my readers will be bored. If a sentence isn’t working in my mouth, it’s probably too long, or overworked, or awkward.

At this point, I’ll break, because there are many drafts in between second and final. There’s usually little sections that need adding, which I craft first by hand. There’s the draft where I make sure there’s visual on each page. The draft where I add other sensual details. Then removing the weakest chapter and inserting needed information from those deleted pages into surrounding chapters. Then remove the next weakest chapter and so on. When I think I have something legible, I send out alpha version to readers with a questionnaire every 20 pages. And on and on until I can read through the mss and not question one word, comma or paragraph break. Which leads to…

Final draft > I haven’t done this yet but hear it works wonders: have a screen reader read the mss aloud to me. The dull voice of a screen reader acts like an xray, finding the faults where they lie and making them obvious. Looking forward to trying it.