Jay Lake: Writer

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[process|poll] The gentle art of rewriting

comments that rewriting coherently is a skill. Coincidentally, I got an email this morning from another friend commenting on the fact that he first started writing fiction on a typewriter, which gave him a radically different work habit than word processors do — specifically, rewriting each page after he’d first drafted it, before going on to the next. This, of course, in order to avoid retyping the bulk of the manuscript due to a few changes somewhere in the middle.

The transition from longhand to typewriter significantly affected the structure and flow of fiction. The transition from typewriter to computer has certainly had a profound effect as well, though I’m uncertain how much scholarship has yet been done on this. (See here for a discussion of this phenomenon.)

For me, writing fiction would be close to impossible without a computer. I have a very difficult time with handwriting, in part because I’m quite literally unable to hold a pen or pencil the traditional way, so I in effect scribble with my fist. In high school and college I did some work on a typewriter, but the rewriting process was an absolute horror. (This is almost certainly one of the reasons I learned to write very clean first drafts.) I obtained regular access to a computer in 1985, and my own computer at home around 1987 (don’t recall exactly when now), and never touched a typewriter again except for special purposes.

I’ve commented a number of times before that clean first drafts can be a real trap. When “good enough” is good enough, the motivation to reach for better, or even excellent, can be vitiated. I’ve never struggled with ideas, and even my very earliest attempts at wordsmithery have a detectable cleverness. Rewriting, or more precisely, refining my prose, has always been my struggle. I’ve gone from hating it to disliking it to, just lately, rather enjoying it. That only took about 25 years.

If I had to rewrite on a typewriter, I’m pretty sure I’d have another line of work. The Muse is vulnerable to the toolset. (Both the physical toolset and the mental toolset, btw, but that’s a topic for another post.)

I know there’s people out there who first draft longhand. I suspect some of you might even use a typewriter occasionally. Me, I’m quite happy in the land of word processors. And I’m finally getting the hang of rewriting coherently.

And just because there hasn’t been a poll hereabouts in a little while, I give you the writing and rewriting poll.

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