Thursday, December 12, 2019

"Looking Behind The Curtain - Part... I No Longer Recall What"

Having an assiduous housekeeper, while I had lunch, she threw my supporting evidence away.  

I was going to count the number of words I changed from my most recent post’s first  draft and deduct that from the number of words in the final version of the post, giving you an idea of exactly how much I change from what I originally put down. 

Since those wastebasketed drafts were tossed out, let me give you a “ballpark” idea on this matter.

I change a whole lot.

(Note:  During subsequent drafts, I continue to rewrite, each revision including progressively fewer changes, until I am unable to see how to make the thing better, and then I stop.  Although sometimes, I come back, later that day when a break inspires me to further improvements, sometimes days later, and sometimes after the post has already been published.  I know that sounds strange, but I have this need to make my work better. 

Even after it matters.

But let me return to the point.

“Because you promised to write shorter.”

That’s right.

Okay, here’s an embarrassing confession.

When I compose my first draft I actually believe “This is it.”  This is “perfection.”

Lemme tell you something.

I have to date written more than 3000 posts.  

The first draft has not once been “perfection.”

In fact, it’s not unusual – as Tom Jones would say –  for me to rewrite more than half of what I originally put down. 

Let us consider that a moment.

More than half of what I originally written was thrown out.  Leaving me wondering,

What exactly was I thinking!?!

“That what you put down was ‘perfection.’”

When it was not even close!

“Yup.  Do you feel silly?”


Sending me on to write more drafts.

A Short But Interesting Side Trip:  That seems to be my style.  My mistake, however, was when I was collaborating with others, I thought it was everyone’s style.  It wasn’t.  They’d pitch a rewrite night joke and it came out, word for word, just right.  I’d try to improve it – because that’s what successfully works for me – and be told, “Leave it alone.”  That’s what I did not understand.  For them, the first try’s the best.  For me, it is sometimes the fifth.

There is a key purpose to a truly horrible first draft.

Bringing us to the venerable show biz direction:

“Just give me something to hate.”

An odd request.  Although without it, you’re nowhere.

Ponder this onerous tableau. 

You have a script or simply a blog post to write.  You sit facing a blank screen, or a page full of whiteness.  You stare into that “empty”, knowing something’s expected to go on there, and realizing the person responsible for doing that is you.

Whoa.  I kind of froze up just mentioning that.  And for good reason.

There is nothing on the page, and your assigned task is to put something there?  Well I’ll tell ya.

It is not going to happen unless you loosen the reins.


By substantially “lowering the bar.”

From “Write something perfect.”

Which nobody can do. 


“Just give me something to hate.”

Which can be accomplished by anyone.

I mean, how hard is it to write something that’ll stink up the place? 

Not hard at all.  Believe me.  I’ve done it.

The first draft is the springboard.  You move onward from there till you’re done,  throwing the evidence of failure away.

Nobody saw Shakespeare’s first drafts.

Most likely it was,

“To be or not to be.  What should I do?”

The Bard allowed himself something to hate, moving from that pedestrian
putrescence till the right line eventually showed up.  (Although frankly, I
think he could have done better.  You ask a question, and then say, “That is the
question”?  I would kind of expect better.)


Having completed “Step One”, it is now time to dig in.

Although at this moment, I think my first draft is actually quite good.
Follow-up Comment:  It wasn’t.

1 comment:

JED said...

When do you consider it "a draft"? Do you say that after X number of changes, it's a draft or do you have to sit back and read the whole thing to consider it a draft? Or do you have to get to the point where your think it could be published (or sent to the editor) and then just read it one more time?

I find your posts on how you write very informative. Not only because it helps explain how you and other professional writers are able to write things that are good enough for people to say, "Boy, that guy can write!" But also because I find that writing for books and TV and films and blogs is very much like writing software.

I have tried for years to finish the sentence, "Writing software is like...," and nothing seems to come as close as it being like writing stories and articles. You seem to go through the same trials and blocks as we do when trying to tell a computer what to do in order for something useful to happen. If we (writers of stories and writers of software) aren't careful, we can go into endless revisions without ever releasing anything.

I think that by studying professional story writing, we Software Engineers (so called) could learn proven techniques that might limit the number of Boeing-737-Max-like catastrophes we see in programming. How do you get to correct? How do you get to useful? And how do you avoid confusing?

Years ago (1994), a book came out that helped software writers by focusing on designing to recognized patterns of useful, general and well understood solutions. The writers examined thousands of successful and useful programs and found that the reusable parts could be classified as 23 design patterns. It revolutionized the profession. In later years, some more patterns were added but it all started with ideas that came from architecture (through Christopher Alexander).

It's time to start using ideas from another classic profession that goes back even further.