"No meaning, no magic, just the work of it: the work of art"
April 6, 2024 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Adam Moss (Vulture, 04/04/2024), "How'd You Make That? Three masterpieces from glimmer through struggle to breakthrough": "So I began talking to creators ... here are three of those conversations with the artists Cheryl Pope and Kara Walker and the poet Louise Glück." Of related interest: Dungeons & Dragons (early draft; see the upcoming book). A first draft of Finnegans Wake. The first page of 1984. Story Synopsis and Rough Draft [PDF] for Star Wars. The Creative Process: A Symposium. For checkout, The Making of The Pré. Plus "Work in Progress: Notes, Drafts, Revision, Publication," "... Check Out These Drafts From Famous Authors," "Surprising secrets of writers' first book drafts," and "First drafts of famous novels."
posted by Wobbuffet (6 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
"But I had a sense when I woke up that day that I had something on the line — some very large fish was toying with me under the water." It always feels like that, dowsn't it? A good idea nibbles and you have to reel it in carefully. It's chilling to think how many excellent novels lke Finnegans Wake or screenplays like Star Wars or E.T. must be sitting in a folder on a drive somewhere because somebody tried to force the idea out rather than gathering it in slowly and methodically; I'm learning that right now as I am beginning to write fiction. Great post!
posted by somebodystrousers at 3:27 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]

I love how worked-over the first page of Nineteen Eighty-Four is. I show it to anyone struggling with writing to show them that even the greatest had to revise a lot.
posted by doctornemo at 4:51 PM on April 6 [1 favorite]

Thank you for sharing this collection. I’ve never seen a lot of these and love that I can now. Thank you!!
posted by astrobiophysican at 6:25 PM on April 6 [1 favorite]

The revised version of the first page of Nineteen Eighty-Four really was better than the first, it was so clunky. But that Star Wars synopsis and rough draft are amazing. It's like the writer had heard about the Star Wars universe, but remembered it all wrong. You want to reach out and grab them, and say, "No, this is how it goes."

You can see what it's like to have a great idea, a fantastic idea, a Million Dollar Idea. You know most of the names, kind of, and a lot of scenes. And you know there's going to be action, and drama, and if someone asked you, you'd say, Yes, I know all about this, there's this scene, and that sequence. So you type it all up, and there it is. It's all down, you got it all there, you got all the things you had in your head. Look at it!! That is a Million Dollar Idea.

But it actually kind of sucks. It is clunky. What is that? Look at that. That is garbage. It's gold! But it's trash, it is clunky, there's a whole guy on the stairs going on about stuff, why is that guy even there? This is when you edit, of course. But I never knew that. My whole life, I get to that part, and I nope right out.

When I was taught about these things, it was always as the final object. What does this poem mean, what did the author intend, why is that there? The process was always stripped away. So my mental model has always been, this genius made this thing. They sat down, and they made it. That's what they did. But the making was always simply blanked out.

I have literally hundreds of unfinished personal projects (enumerating them is one of them). I have projects that I started in the 1980s, that I seriously, honestly, intend to complete. Someday. A couple of them are epic Million Dollar Ideas, and every time I write them down, I can see just bad they really are. So clunky. But in my head, it's so much better! I could be George Lucas, I narrowly missed being Elon Musk. I should be next. But I have no talent. I wrote it down, and it kind of sucked.

Irony hunts me down, and so I edit and revise for a living. I write software, which is to say I refactor the code that's there into doing something new, while preserving what it did before. My day is a process of continually remaking, reshaping, a process, a river, a flow, a series of releases, not one finished thing.

How did the Beatles make their music? They were simply geniuses, and they went into the studio, and they recorded things and it was amazing because that's who they were. Then I finally saw The Beatles: Get Back. And that literally took apart my mind, it literally blew it, seeing how something I knew in my bones was perfect the way it was, and discovering how it got that way restructured my understanding how the universe works and my place in it.

Those great works of literature were edited into greatness. The improvisations are improvements that come naturally from the repeated practice and performance. Things got moved around, things got crossed out, entire characters and planets removed, revised, transformed, painted over, retouched, again and again and again.

It doesn't ahve to be perfect the first time.
posted by bigbigdog at 6:48 PM on April 6 [23 favorites]

Interesting looks behind the curtains, thanks for this.

Diane Duane is so very generous with advice on writing, and dispenses it on many social platforms. Her take on creative editing is to let things flow, then jettison that which does not move things forward:

"Go ahead and write that stuff. The breakfasts, the staring-into-empty-space scenes, whatever. Then pull them out of your work if they serve too little useful purpose. If you feel the need, shove such material into a separate folder to examine for possible usefulness later.

Even if you don't put it where other people can see it, no writing is ever wasted. Every sentence will teach you something. But if a passage or sequence doesn't help illuminate character, build the world, or advance the plot, get it the hell out of your narrative.

Your readers' time is precious. Do them the courtesy of not wasting it. "

Sometimes we write just to flesh out backstory. Sometimes delving into backstory changes the arc of a character, maybe even more.

I like what Neil Gaiman said about writing outlines: ".. you are telling yourself the story on your first draft. Later you can make it look like you knew what you were doing all along."

Some more advice from around the web which makes editing a bit less intimidating, for me anyway:

* Keep everything. Anything can be reused or fit to another purpose.

* There are as many methods of writing as there are writers, and each writer uses different methods for different purposes. You can use more than one.

* Wrote a chapter but you dislike it? Rewrite it again from memory. That way you’re only remembering the main parts and can fill in extra details.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 10:57 PM on April 6 [3 favorites]

Dungeons & Dragons (early draft; see the upcoming book)

I was going to kvetch about whether a potential WotC hagiography is useful when the magisterial Playing At The World exists, but the new book includes commentary by Peterson, so there’s at least one critical eye involved.
posted by zamboni at 1:54 AM on April 7 [1 favorite]

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