A few months ago in Brisbane, I shared an extract with you from the book I am writing. This week on The Melbourne Flâneur, I flâne around Docklands, taking advantage of the warmer weather to sit by the Yarra and read you a new extract.
At this stage, I am approximately 60 per cent of the way through the second draft of the book—which is where the ‘real writing’ occurs. I don’t write so much as rewrite.
I use a lot of metaphors to describe my approach to writing. Sometimes I think of it as ‘architectural’, other times as ‘musical’, or even ‘painterly’. But oftentimes when I think about my process of writing and publishing a book, I compare it to ‘sculpting’.
As demonstrated in the video above, ultimately I am writing thought. The action of the scene is simple enough: walking downhill at night. The thoughts that take place on that flânerie, however, are not simple to describe or make intelligible to the reader.
Michelangelo (some of whose sonnets I have translated), said that ‘every block of stone has a statue inside itself’, and that ‘to free the captive / Is all the hand which obeys the intellect may do.’
It is as though I am ‘hewing’ my thoughts out of a block of dense fog in my mind, and it takes several passes with the chisel and the file over successive drafts to sculpt those thoughts into their final, perfect form in words.
If you work from a plan or outline for your book (and you always should), this is like a sculptor’s maquette: it is a skeletal, bare bones structure which represents all the parts of your book and their relations to each other.
Writing your first draft is like modelling in clay: it’s a time to get your hands dirty and play. I always write the first draft by hand because it allows me to explore the lineaments of my thought, probing and shaping its first vague outlines.
The second draft, as I said, is where the ‘real writing’ takes place. It is the longest and most difficult part of the process because you have to ‘carve out’ what is vague and implicit in the first draft.
The second draft is about maximal amplification and clarification, so I rewrite my entire book, carving out every detail that I passed over lightly and summarily in the first draft until I’m satisfied that my thought is fully explicated.
In the extract I share with you in the video above, this is the point you find me at with regards to that walk downhill: all the implicit thoughts in back of that simple action are now explicit.
It’s perfectly acceptable to ‘overwrite’ in your second draft: as Michelangelo said, sculpture is the art of subtraction, of ‘taking away’—but you can’t take away words you haven’t written to begin with.
The third draft is about subtracting the inessential, and if you are writing a book for the first time, this is the point where you may consider engaging a professional editor to help you decide what to take away.
All editors have different methodologies, but as you might imagine, with my Artisanal Desktop Publishing service, I tend to regard your words as though they formed an object in space, something I can see ‘in the round’, like a sculpture, and I’m very good at discerning what is inessential and what is core to the structure of your book.
If you enjoy this video and would to see more ‘episodes’ in the future, as I update you on the progress of my next book, taking you inside my Artisanal Desktop Publishing process, I’d appreciate it if you like the video on Vimeo or leave an encouraging comment. You can also share your own steps to writing a book with me in the comments below.