I’m in the initial stages today of drafting an article that I’ve promised for a volume. And I’m having no fun whatsoever.

The first day of drafting is always painful: I cobble together what few thoughts I have about the article’s structure into the beginnings of some kind of outline; I attempt to flesh out the outline where I can; I stare at the enormous gaps — particularly the big white space at the end of what I’ve got, where I just run out of steam and can’t figure out what comes next.

I check email. I read blogs.

I look back at the outline, depressed to find that nothing has changed since I turned away from it ten minutes ago. I force myself to produce another bullet point. Then delete it. Then put it back, as I’m not sure what else to put in its place.

I check various stats. See if there’s new email. Get another diet Coke.

The first day is always like this — I spend less time working than stalling, trying to avoid having to bash my forehead into that brick wall one more time. The first day’s work is nearly always nonsense.

Sometimes the second day’s work is, too.

But often on the second day, and usually by the third, something breaks loose, and I actually begin to feel the shape of whatever it is I’m writing, producing actual sentences with real logical connections to one another, sensing that those logical connections are gradually building into something that will someday resemble an argument.

Usually. Unless it turns out that what I produced on the first day really was nonsense, and that I just don’t have enough to work with to propel me through.

I try to remind myself that that’s a pretty rare outcome. But I still keep hoping that beginning to draft something new will get easier, someday.

3 thoughts on “Drafting

  1. Do you ever read aloud portions of what you have written? Do you play with taking a chunk to tease out, way out, way way out, the nonsense that lurks withinnnn and around?

    Emmeshed in games with the signifiers, one sometimes gets to connect with the argument in a different fashion. One that puts one in touch with the flow. Sometimes it leads to whole blocks of text changing positions.

    Some people don’t dream out loud and therefore need the three or four days (and their accompanying nights of sleep)to do the dream work.

    Why rush a good thing?

  2. Actually, I read *everything* I write out loud, at varying points in the process of writing it. It’s the only way that I can find the sense within what I’ve written, to hear the rhythms of it and get a sense of the hidden connections. It’s funny how much what you’ve written touches upon the most important — because most unconscious, and therefore most uncontrollable — aspects of writing for me. Primarily the unexpected connection, one that I stumble across only because (for some reason) I chose a metaphor that had some kind of bridge imagery over here, and look, wait, there’s sort of a bridge over here, too, I didn’t notice that before, so what does what I’m writing about have to do with bridges?

    Those are the moments that make the whole thing worthwhile for me. But getting started, before any of those connections have bubbled to the surface, is just hard. It feels like starting to build a house by laying a brick wall, before there’s a foundation or even, necessarily, a blueprint.

  3. KF, your musings on bridges and blueprints remind me of a passage from Mary Catherine Bateson, _Composing a Life_ (1989)

    It is time now to explore the creative potential of interrupted and conflicted lives, where energies are not narrowly focused or permanently pointed toward a single ambition. These are not lives without commitment, but rather lives in which commitments are continually refocused and redefined. We must invest time and passion in specific goals and yet at the same time acknowledge that these are mutable. The circumstances of women’s lives now and in the past provide examples for new ways of thinking about the lives of both men and women. What are the possible transfers of learning when life is a collage of different tasks? How does creativity flourish on distraction? What insights arise from the experience of multiplicity and ambiguity? And at what point does desperate improvisation become significant achievement? These are important questions in a world in which we are increasingly strangers and sojourners.

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