Saturday, 11 April 2015

Are you afraid of death or afraid of chaos?

When I was a creative writing student at Glasgow University, a decade ago, one of our most memorable workshops was with Janice Galloway. I remember her saying something along the following lines.

There are two kinds of writers: those who are afraid of death and those who are afraid of chaos. If you are one of those who is afraid of chaos, the first draft is painful, because it's always utterly chaotic. Revision, on the other hand, is where all the pleasure is, as order is imposed and the horrible mess is cleared up. Many of such writers edit as they go along, not being able to bear living with the shambles of first draft writing.

For writers who are afraid of death, the reverse is true: the first draft is a joyful outpouring as the story comes to life, but revision is awful, because there is always the risk that this living thing will be murdered by an injudicious cut, or disfigured by a badly executed edit. These writers normally let the whole thing splurge out onto the page then put off the revision process as long as possible and agonise over it.

I am the latter kind of writer. I wish I was the former. I have (slowly, it has to be said), gushed forth a first draft of the next novel and over the past few months I have been typing it up and getting closer and closer to the day when I will have to declare the drafting process complete. It will then be time to begin the agonising revision process. All the fun will be over. 

Fortunately there is still research to do. In the process of typing, I have revealed gaps and cracks that need to be filled: the ingredients of a good poultice to ease an arthritic joint, for example. I need to learn some more ancient Greek (my character Pytheas spoke it, presumably, so I'd better know what he said at crucial moments). I know this is a marvellous way of procrastinating, but I have to do something to avoid taking the surgical scalpel to the foetal text...

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