There are many books to read on how to be a writer, what process to take to be a writer, and many of these provide an excellent foundation to becoming an adept writer and help writers grow. Being a writer requires taking risks.
Dillard’s “The Writing Life” is one I found interesting. Many of her thoughts relate to my own as I develop my novels, come up with new ideas to write about, and make revisions. Though I think the pursuit of writing a story is based on the individual in many ways, all writers share the common journey of putting words down on paper or on a computer screen then omit, add, rewrite until their stories are right.
The first drafts of my manuscripts is me generating the words on the page. Well, the second and other drafts are too. Then follows what some people say is the “real writing”, the revising and editing. Dillard mentions, “When you write, you lay out a line of words … a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow.” I had to make an effort to wrap my mind around what Dillard is saying here, and the meaning of her words will be understood differently by each person. However, I believe she is saying that once the words have been written in a rough draft, then comes the editing, revising, the picking at the words, sentences, ideas, etc.
I have often thought about how the editing process impacts my prose. Sure, editing and revising are essential parts to developing literature. There is no way around them. But when editing is stressed so much it takes away the original voice and idea from the author’s prose another issue presents itself. Dillard says, “The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen.” I think she says the early writing “forms the true shape” of a story. Then would come the miner’s pick and woodcarver’s gouge to edit. Use that miner’s pick and woodcarver’s gouge with care?
Besides writing fiction, I write to express myself. Freedom of expression through words, through characters, figurative language, etc. However, I think this freedom of writing is contained and controlled somewhat. Dillard mentioned, “Your freedom as a writer is not freedom of expression in the sense of wild blurting; you may not let rip. It is life at its most free, if you are fortunate enough to be able to try it, because you select your materials, invent your task, and pace yourself.” As a writer, I choose what idea I want to explore, what character I want to make an example of, how I want my story to begin and end, and how much effort I decide to put into revising and editing. Critics, editors and avid readers provide their thoughts on my writing, but it is me who writes the final product. So, I see Dillard’s point here – writing is life at its most free.
Writing is a daring process that one has to make an effort at. As a writer, I have to endure. There is the brainstorming, reading, research, writing, editing, revising, etc. I want to leave with a quote from one of my writing instructors that I think relates to my and I assume other writers’ experiences and the writing process itself.
“Let your own instincts drive your first draft, but later, as you revise, don’t be afraid of revision, don’t be afraid of going further, don’t be afraid of pushing yourself to your own high standards. Nothing will teach you more about writing than the act itself.”
Below is the link to Dillard’s book: