Reviewing old notes in my Evernote account, I found a collection of quotes from Write like the Masters, by William Cane.
The book collects facts about the writing habits of famous writers. Go get a copy of the book at Amazon. It’s fantastic.
Here is what I noted about the master, Ray Bradbury. As memory serves, some text comes directly from the book and some I paraphrased. I’ll add commentary at the end.
“When Ray Bradbury wrote his first draft he didn’t simply write quickly and without censoring himself, he actually purposefully overwrote, trying to come up with multiple takes on sentences and figures of speech, for instance, which he intended to prune and edit later. . . . ‘Sometimes I give myself, on a single page, 4, 5, or 6 similes which by the fifth draft, dwindle down to one or two really good ones, for proper emphasis.’ He overwrote so that later, when in ‘editing mode,’ he could choose the best phrase or the most apt figure of speech; in effect during the first draft he made his own thesaurus of words and phrases, from which he selected later while reviewing his work.
“Another trick of Bradbury’s was to press forward when working on a short story to complete the first draft in one day. ‘I believe first drafts, like life and living, must be immediate, quick, passionate. By writing a draft in a day I have a story with a skin around it.’ In order to accomplish this task, you may find that writing a more sketchy outline of the story works for you, allowing you to reach the conclusion and climax of the tale with all the intensity that is associated with a first draft. Later, when time permits, and when some of the energy and enthusiasm has subsided, you can flesh out the details, the descriptions, and the dialogue.
“Bradbury would let a novel manuscript mellow for a year before revisiting and editing it.
“He kept professional hours. 9-5. He would take a break at noon for a walk or workout if he had a productive morning….
“Finally, when revising, Bradbury went through each manuscript with the determined intention of hunting for at least one word to change on each page. ‘My final drafts are always nit-picking surveys of the manuscript. I look to change one word on each page. When I go through the story and find that every word is perfect, it goes into the mail.'”
Here’s the takeaway:
1) Write enthusiastically and quickly.
2) Write your story in one sitting. Let the draft be sketchy, if necessary. You’ll flesh stuff out later. We don’t show anyone our first drafts.
3) Overwrite your first draft. Write many similes instead of one, use multiple adjectives, set down various verbs. When revising later you can decide what’s best and what should go. REMEMBER: We don’t show anyone our first drafts. (See Tobias Wolff’s comments about his own atrocious first fumblings.)
E.g., an overwritten sentence: “I held, caressed, clutched, drew close the present, gift, ribbon-wrapped box and sniffed, inhaled, drank in the scent of her perfume upon it.”
A polished 2nd version: “I caressed the ribbon-wrapped gift and inhaled the scent of her perfume upon it.”
THE POINT IS, give yourself plenty of options. Don’t stop your momentum to ponder for precision. Worry about precision later.
4) Let the work mellow for a time so you return to it with fresh eyes. (See Stephen King’s On Writing for his concurring thoughts.)
5) Respect yourself and your career. Keep professional hours.
6) Be a merciless nitpicker. “Revise, revise, revise,” sayeth John Gardner. When you’re done, go through once more and change one word on every page. (See Raymond Carver’s comments about knowing he was done when he’d taken out and restored all the commas.)
That’s it for now. Good luck with your writing!
Thoughts? Additional suggestions? Leave them in the reply section below.