View from the edge: on drafting and editing

Annie Dillard in her wonderful book on writing The Writing Life reminds us that

For writing a first draft requires from the writer a peculiar internal state which ordinary life does not induce…but how, if you are neither Zulu warrior nor Aztec maiden, do you prepare yourself, all alone, to enter an extraordinary state on an ordinary morning? How set yourself spinning? Where is an edge – a dangerous edge – and where is the trail to the edge and the strength to climb it?

So, imagine you’ve done that. You’ve spent the guts of the last two years on that edge, or more precisely, watching it, moving towards it, and then scampering back to the safety of the long grass, and then, suddenly, the emotional force of the story pushes you right over the edge.

And you write. Like your life depended on it. And you dream. Of your story. Of the possibilities. And every news item seems to echo the world you’re writing about. And every tear, each bereavement and loss moves you as if it were your own.

And even when it is your own, you feel it so much that you are numbed.

But the mist hasn’t quite lifted yet. You still can’t see the green of the mountains. For now you’re in editing land. Half of you still dreams of possibilities, the other half runs lines like electricity through the connections of plots, subplots and things that weigh heavily. And scenes that bob and float and seem to be made of nothing.


What will you do with all of this?

Yes. You have finished the draft, and now you are honing it, and simultaneously weaning yourself away from it.  Yes.

Summer time.

  • Time to work.
  • Time to think.
  • Time to compost.
  • The next long fiction project nudges with invisible fingers…

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