Saturday, September 24, 2005

Drafting for Penguin Writers

Saturday Writer: Drafting
Drafting is the time when writers use the notes they’ve gathered and plans they’ve made to write out preliminary versions of a cohesive whole.

Knowing humans never suffer from misconceptions, I thought it best to discuss the writing class I teach for penguins, who have trouble understanding that drafting is only the beginning.

Penguins are quite good writers really, once they tackle how to set the paper and to hold the pencil steady. They do really well at prewriting and organizing, but they think that drafting is the end all of writing. To put it bluntly, penguins believe is that drafting IS writing. Once they get the words on paper, they think the writing is done.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Drafting is the test shot, the first attempt, the chance to see if the writing plan will work. Experienced writers start the drafting stage prepared to change, knowing they face some work. Penguin writers need help in changing perspective on drafting to understand its purpose.

I encourage penguins to see a draft as something they can work with. I suggest they walk away when it is done and wait to read it later. I encourage them to take a penguin walk around the web to look for writers who think that drafting is writing. Soon enough penguins notice sentences that don’t read as well as they might. They start seeing -ings that are spelled -in. They realize that sometimes whole merds are wixed up.

Drafting is about expressing new ideas, but in the bliss, or sometimes pain, of getting those ideas to paper a penguin’s first choice might not best express the meaning.

At the other extreme some penguins try to do too much when they are drafting. They edit as they write their draft, investing hours on the first paragraph. We talk about how it’s best to build an igloo by getting the big blocks together first, and saving the rougher seams for later.

The purpose for drafting that every penguin needs to know is that it is to get ideas into a whole. Drafting determines what introduces and expresses the message, what information to keep and not keep. In the next step, revising, the penguins can challenge the draft to make sure that the message is clear and that it reads well and logically.

We already knew that. That’s why I chose penguins to teach.
—me strauss Letting me be


Ned said...

As Lyle Lovett said "Penguins are so sensitive". I suppose writers are always sensitive and sentimental about those first drafts. It's hard to make a cherished word or phrase homeless.

ME Strauss said...

You always have the perfect quote. This time from the guy who rode his pony on his boat while living in his mind.

That is such a lovely thought not wanting to make cherished words homeless. It reminds me of Peter Gabriel's "like words together we can make some sense."


Ned said...

I only know weird things Liz. But I do know a bit about The Homeless Words

ME Strauss said...

Ah Ned. You know many things, not nearly all of them weird.

I'll come look at your homeless words.


Lee Carlon said...

I have a pet dog who refuses to spell things correctly, he claims he's helping the language evolve.

ME Strauss said...

Oh Lee,
Your dog would get along well with Luke's border collie who spells everything for him. He says he's helping Luke evolve. Hee hee.


Bluesky_Liz said...

Back when I was writing stories, I was quite the penguin - wanting to keep just about everything in the first draft and a lot of editing as I go along because of that. I think I was just lazy too. :) I didn't like re-writing.

ME Strauss said...

Hi Liz,
I know what you mean. I used to do that too.

Most folks start out thinking that it's faster to do it that way, but really what happens is that you get in your own way. It's like trying to serve two masters at once--and you end up missing things on both sides of the issue. If you wait until the draft is settled, the revising goes faster than when doing two things together.


Tanda said...

{Sticks both hands in the air}

You got me!

I do find myself re-writing as I write. It's almost to a beat:

type type type, backspace, backspace, re-type, retype, etc...

So, I should start with a skinny little skeleton. Then I should away and come back later to start adding meat? Boy, was I mixed up. No wonder I was getting so frustrated and irritated with the final product.

Thank you, Liz. Here's another page I will happily print. :0)

ME Strauss said...


It's okay to add as you go, just don't try to bring things to a perfect polish. Get the information down and in order. Then go back and put on the finish.


lee pletzers said...

nicely put. I know a few of these penguins.

ME Strauss said...

Thanks Lee,
I've worked with a few of them myself.

Mark said...

"At the other extreme some penguins try to do too much when they are drafting. They edit as they write their draft, investing hours on the first paragraph."

Were you watching me write today? This can be a very easy trap to fall into. The difference between a writer and a hack is drafting. The hack stops there the writer keeps refining.

I wrote a column today, that will appear on my site tomorrow, called "Gone in 30 seconds," about the process of writing for the Internet.

I guess great minds think alike.

ME Strauss said...

No, Mark, but I did read the wonderful dialogue you folks had going on. I arrived too late to paricipate. But I still enjoyed it.

Mark said...

No ME, not were you watching me write on my site today. I meant were you watching we write TOMMORROWS COLUMN today? I guess I didn't make that very clear.

I do all my pre-writing, drafting, etc. in Word. Once the column is done and ready to upload it I copy/paste into my blogging software.

I caught myself writing & editing tommorrow's piece 'on the fly.' Then I come here and you're airing my dirty little secret to the entire Internet. :D

ME Strauss said...

I got what you're saying.
I was giving you and your guests a compliment.

Sorry I caught you out on your dirty little secret. GRIN

fineartist said...

Liz, I can’t wait to print this post and share it with my students.

Makes perfect sense, and is similar to the process of painting/drawing etc., We are able to see more clearly what needs to be done when we step away from it for a time, look at it from a distance, to see how it reads, and then come back to make the changes it calls for.

In my classroom, students frustration levels reach all time highs when they expect their work to look finished/polished in the beginning stages of a painting. Not realizing that painting is a process that begins rough and takes time to develop, time to step away from, time to read from a distance, and time to re evaluate.

Of course some of the problem has more to do with self confidence levels, they haven’t completed the process enough, successfully to believe that they can. The left brain keeps telling them that they suck, keeping the right brain from kicking in and achieving the flow state.

Strange, when I write I tend to rewrite as I go too, expecting things to read well the first time I will have to remember that it is a process much like painting.

Also, I found your site where you encourage and give advice to aspiring poets. It’s cool as heck.

ME Strauss said...

It sure makes sense, but I didn't realize that painting had it's stage where you had to stand back from the rough version and evaluate the work in progress. I guess when it's someone else's *stuff* we just figure it moves along in a nicely linear fashion or some such.

I'm delighted to learn there is a colollary with the visual arts. I'm tired of making all of my analogies musically. :)

The more you speak of your kids the more I fall in love with them. That poetry thing I did was so special because the kids didn't know me--so my voice could resonate with them. I miss it.