The Writing Process: Digging Deeper on Trees and in Writing

I took down my Christmas tree on Thursday night.

I know I'm a bit late in getting this done, but I've had good reason.

I developed a bit of a system this year.  First, I removed the soft ornaments, home-made stuffed fabric Christmas shapes and gingerbread men, as well as furry bears from various sources.  Those could all be stored in a plastic tub without a lot of wrapping.  And, many of them sat on the tips of the tree's branches.Snow 031

Then the ornament removal got more complex.  The next round were glass bulbs, which needed to wrapped in tissue and placed in the big ornament crate that had partitions.  Included in this round were the most precious ornaments, funny little things my kids made through the years that never fail to make my heart skip a beat.

After these two rounds I'd  gotten most of the ornaments off the tree.  Or so I thought.  But as I started to walk away from my finished job, I noticed another one hiding amidst the pine needles.  And when I looked harder, I saw another, and then another.  There's something terribly sad about the image of a forlorn ornament getting tossed out with the tree, so I started beating the branches, looking for more.

And throughout all this, I couldn't help but think about writing.  Looking for more ornaments, even when you think you've found them all, is similar to the writing process.

As a refresher, here's the writing process as I see it:

1.  Write a rough draft, also known as a Shitty First Draft (or SFD) in the world of Anne Lamott, or the Glumping it All on the Page Draft (GAPD) in the world of Word Strumpet.

2.  Rewrite the draft.

3.  Rewrite the draft again.

4.  Revise the draft.  (I think of revising as having more to do with removing commas or adding them, fussing with words and so on.  Rewriting is for the big stuff–character arc, plotting, and so on.)

5.  Rewrite and revise the draft one more time.

6.  Read it again, decide it needs another rewrite, finish the revision.

7.  An impatient editor or other pressing deadline such as old age or senility finally forces you to send it off.

So it is easy to see how this endless rigorous writing process is much the same as ornament hunting.  Just when you think you've found the last plot problem, suddenly a light goes on and you realize that Jimmy didn't go to jail but Bobby did, and then the whole story has to change.  Or, after numerous rewrites, it may suddenly occur to you what the theme of your story actually is, a eureka moment if ever there was one.

Have you ever completed a rewrite, certain it was your last, only to discover almost to the end that you have to go through it one more time?  And even though your civilian friends think you are nuts and that you should just submit it already, you know that making the changes will make the book into the book that you see in your mind and feel in your heart.

Writing is, above all else, a process of digging deeper and discovering what lies hidden amidst the branches.  When first we begin writing, we tend to fall in love with our work, just as we fall in love with a newborn baby, and we don't want to do a thing to change that lovely creation we've brought into the world.  (Anne Wayman wrote a great piece on falling in love with your work this week which you can read here.)

But it doesn't usually take long as a writer to start to appreciate the wonders of rewriting.  I know you've heard it a million times–writing is rewriting.  It's true, to the point where many writers begin to prefer the rewriting phase to the hard work of writing a GAPD. 

And then the problem becomes how to get yourself to stop rewriting.  But that is a topic for another post.

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4 Comments on "The Writing Process: Digging Deeper on Trees and in Writing"

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Mary Ihla (mihla)
Mary Ihla (mihla)
01/10/2009 12:05

Great article! I had to chuckle out loud at #7. I had never considered my age (63) or the fact there’s Alzheimer’s on both sides of the family as a reason to cease my rewriting/revising efforts. My friends keep telling me, “Better done than perfect!” but I have a hard time relinquishing my writing projects.

BTW, I have a quick way of undecorating the Christmas tree: drop a potato chip under it with a 150-pound German Shephard puppy in the house.

01/10/2009 12:38

I see you have the writing process well organised here. I write my first drafts presuming perfection, then notice after some reflexion that they fall into the SFD realm and need more work.


btw, faster to to remove ornaments from tree by shaking it (tree) out upstairs window and/or having cats in the house.

01/11/2009 02:08

This is like a two-edged sword for me. Regarding my blog, I have managed to get myself to stop re-writing over and over my short entries, but sometimes have to go back an edit some typo or grammatical error. I have purchased a program Serif Word Read for longer works and it is quite good for sitting back and listening to my work being read back to me in quite a natural-sounding voice.

When it comes to sending work off though, I am not quite senile enough yet! Well, that’s a good excuse aint it!?


[…] Apparently I'm more of a creature of habit than I thought.  Every year about this time I write a post about going back to the basics.  These pithy thoughts may be disguised in several different ways, but basically what I end up writing about is the writing process. […]