So my mum surprised me with this weird time capsule parcel yesterday. It contained long-forgotten photos, love letters, birthday cards, scribbles and other detritus. It also contained a handful of drawings from my teenage years. Sur-fucking-real!
These are extremely crude (let’s just say I’ve improved since), but I still wanted to share them. Apologies for the image quality. Each page was marred by a big fat crease down the middle and it’s apparent I had a penchant for featherweight pencil strokes, which don’t show up well in photographs.
At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.
‘Wh-who are you?’
‘I am the master of this castle.’
The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’
The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.
‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.
‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!’
Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’
The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’
‘And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.’
‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’
Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.
‘What do you want with me?’ she cried.
The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’
‘You were trespassing.’
‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’
The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.’
‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’
Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’
The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’
‘Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …’
‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’
‘Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.’
The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’
Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’
‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’
‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’
The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’
Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’
Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.
Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’
‘What is it?’
Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.’
Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.
‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’
With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.
The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’
The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’
Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’
The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’
Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’
‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’
‘Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.’
Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.
The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’
‘Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?’
‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’
‘Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.’
Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!’
The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’
Her boyfriend, Glen, leaps back, stumbles on the lip of the kerb. His arms make sad little windmills. A passerby sidesteps the spectacle and Brittany laughs, first at the passing stranger, then at Glen. She thinks long and hard about ways to hurt him. She compares him to his father, but the words falter against him; he has heard this one too many times. She brings up that fat sheila again, the one he ‘rooted last month’.
Glen’s frustration finally bests him. He bites back, lists – for the fourth time that week – his reasons for the indiscretion. It was, he explains, a knee-jerk reaction, the unfortunate consequence of months of compounding stress. He reminds her that she is far from innocent herself. Her list of follies is lengthy: there was the handjob she gave Marcus, their mutual friend, at the football; the phone abuse she inflicted on Glen’s family (over an innocuous remark Glen’s father had made over dinner); the gross mismanagement of their welfare money; her endless stream of criticisms; the broken taillight she never replaced; the way she refused to find work, despite dire financial straits; and the … the …
He is shaking, has made a scene. The reasons why they shouldn’t stay together cascade over him. The Bundoora-bound 86 pulls up behind them.
Brittany – red-faced and full of piss and vinegar – boards via the front entrance. On the second stair, she stops, turns, a tear trickling down her cheek, and says: ‘Well, you’re a fuckin’ dud root, you are! Stay away from this piece of shit, girls! Never once made me come in two years!’
The doors close and the tram pulls away. From the middle of Smith Street, Glen watches Brittany exit his life. When at last she’s gone, he turns, walks the five paces to Woolworths and relays his story to anyone who’ll listen.
He misses her already.
* Published in INfusion 47.
Writing is fundamentally about the communication of ideas. Processes will vary from writer to writer, but, for professionals, it is imperative to follow these three main stages: prewriting, writing and rewriting. It’s also helpful to think of writing as a continuous process. A piece of professional writing is seldom accomplished in a single linear sitting; it is the result of much forethought and constant refinement.
Prewriting is the first step of the process and is defined as ‘a blanket term for a wide range of techniques designed to start a writer off on the right foot, both intellectually and psychologically’. It refers to any preparatory work preceding the drafting process. Examples of prewriting range from the tangible – i.e. note-taking, listing, charting, plotting, free writing (where one writes continuously until they run out of associations), drawing or creating other visual delineations – to the intangible – i.e. daydreaming, imagining, theorising, visualising or empathising (when responding to external stimuli). Prewriting is designed to help writers familiarise with ideas, affording them greater understanding of their own fictional worlds. With this deeper conceptual intimacy, writers are able to draw richer, more convincing details. Work will theoretically flow better, too, as the writer will have a better semblance of what they’re working towards and will therefore be able to forge more organic connections between ideas.
Excepting spontaneous prose writers and practitioners of trance or automatic writing (who write with deliberate detachment), all writers engage in prewriting. Daydreams, fantasies and moments spent questioning reality are examples of this. These can act as mental springboards, propelling writers towards the exploration of fictional ideas. In fitness terms, prewriting is like stretching; or, to use a culinary analogy, it can be thought of as preheating the oven. Either way, prewriting directly facilitates the proceeding stages of the writing process.
Plotting, a popular form of prewriting, is particularly useful for longer writing projects, as their inherent ambitiousness makes them susceptible to wayward deviations. Long fiction projects like novels can fall prey to pacing issues or become convoluted if not approached with diligence. Plans and formal structures aren’t essential, but serve as useful guides. However, some find preparation confining; therefore, individuals must decide how stringently they will adhere to plans.
Spontaneous fiction writing (colloquially known as ‘pantsing’) is, for many, an enjoyable and viable approach. It may seem bereft of forethought, and thus not prewriting in the conventional sense, but this is not necessarily so, as the unconscious mind is always ticking over, refilling the reserves so that they may be drawn upon during fiction writing. Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, speaking to Otago Daily Times, claimed that the ideas for his popular No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novels poured out fully formed. He does not write detailed plans; rather, he attributes his efficient plotting process to his subconscious mind.
Conversely, prolific sci-fi author Rachel Bach said on her blog that detailed outlining has rejuvenated her writing process, allowing her to isolate the prewriting and drafting processes so that she may commit wholeheartedly to one at a time.
These contrasting examples illustrate how prewriting creates a smoother drafting experience, whether the writer commits to a tangible or intangible approach.
The second part of the fiction writing process is drafting. This is the real heavy lifting; unlike prewriting, which can take more abstract forms, drafting is the literal commitment of words to page. It is perhaps the most important part of the writing process; rewriting cannot even begin until the writer has put down actual content. Until drafting begins, projects can never really come to fruition and will instead remain ideas, an abstraction.
Perhaps because of this importance, the physical act of writing is wont to cause writers the most anxiety. In its worst form, this phenomenon is known as writer’s block, and can be paralysing. Les Zigomanis, Publications Editor for Busybird Publishing, says some writers defer writing because they fear they can’t effectively actualise their ideas. They fear their work will never reach the high standard of what they’ve idealised in their heads. In the prewriting phase, ideas are vague and intangible; there are infinite possible approaches, and the possibilities seem endless. Ideas feel exciting, lightweight, because they aren’t bogged down with the specificities needed to make complex, engaging plots. Writing these ideas down means committing to a single approach – a single voice, perspective, prose style, etc – an act that sullies immeasurable perfection; it kills the prospect of what might’ve been. Unforeseen issues will inevitably arise during drafting, some of which may stem from the writer’s stylistic decisions. For example: in a story about a kidnapping, the writer must choose a particular point of view – the kidnapper; or, perhaps, the kidnappee. Decisions like these have massive repercussions and will greatly affect the narrative’s tone and direction.
It is, however, advisable not to become too preoccupied with the aforementioned factors. The writing process is for making progress, and analyses should be relegated to the prewriting and rewriting stages. As Anne Lamott writes in her bestselling writing guide Bird by Bird:
‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.’
Of course, not all writers are so readily susceptible to writer’s block; for many, drafting is the most enjoyable part of the process. It is fair to say, for a working writer, that the drafting process, often full of discovery, is the most like play. In an article in Daily Nation, Waithaka Waihenya reflects on how exhilarating a productive writing session can be, drawing comparisons to other addictive (albeit unhealthier) habits, like smoking and drinking.
‘One thing about writing is that it is hugely exhilarating. … And, almost in revelatory productivity, the words start flowing. All of a sudden, it is like the beginning of weeping. The only difficult part is starting. The rest cascades down all too easily.’
As evident in the earlier quote, Anne Lamott champions writing what she calls ‘shitty first drafts’. She believes many writers aspire to produce perfect drafts from the onset because they mistakenly believe that is the practice of professional writers. This mindset trickles all the way down to the book-buying public, where a common perception is that writers are wordsmith magicians who effortlessly communicate without need for revision or collaboration. This is likely because, in publishing, authors are typically awarded the lion’s share of praise. Editors, whose specific contributions to the final product may be sizeable (see, for example, the relationship between American writer Raymond Carver and his editor, Gordon Lish), seldom receive much fanfare. This perpetuates the notion that writers alone are responsible for the quality of their own work. But drafting is not the stage for fretting about quality. According to Lamott, having low expectations for first drafts is healthy, and helps alleviate pressure. Steven King shares a similar sentiment in his instructional craft book, On Writing.
The third part of the writing process is arguably the most labour-intensive. Rewriting can be a long, arduous process, depending of course on the nature of the work and its issues, and the meticulousness of those working on it – the writer, editor/s and, sometimes, the publisher. A common misconception among newer writers and non-writers is that good fiction is produced in a single, linear process. In actuality, constructing genuinely good stories involves relentless rephrasing, reduction and reinterpretation. Good fiction seamlessly marries all the elements together – voice, character, style, etc – and it is extremely unlikely (almost a certifiable impossibility) this will occur in a first draft.
Although drafting is of utmost importance, rewriting is a close second. Rewriting is really the only way to ensure the work reaches a publishable standard. It is the stage where plot problems are addressed, inconsistencies are ironed out and characters are culled or amalgamated. Misspellings and other technical issues are also addressed during rewriting. This is crucial if writers wish to be taken seriously and effectively communicate their ideas.
In her immensely successful punctuation book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss stresses the importance of a steadfast command of grammar. The book’s opening chapter, ‘Introduction – The Seventh Sense’, is an extended meditation wherein she mourns her nation’s declining literacy rates and lampoons businesses and other so-called professionals for their amusing syntax errors. Truss represents those who wish to uphold the sanctity of correct grammar usage. For many, a book with mistakes or substandard writing is not worth reading. This is especially important with the advent of self-publishing, which commonly sees writers put their work out into the fray without adequate revision or guidance from a proficient editor. It can be difficult to identify errors during the drafting process, as one will be too close to the work, too emotionally invested in it. Therefore, rewriting is the crucial third stage of fiction writing.
Symbolism is another popular way to enhance a narrative’s effectiveness and is usually reverse engineered into a work (or at least its implementation is improved during rewrites). In his instructional craft book, On Writing, Stephen King stresses the importance of rewriting, and the beneficial factors of symbolism:
‘When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest. Not every book has to be loaded with symbolism, irony or musical language … but it seems to me that every book – at least every one worth reading – is about something. Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft – one of them, anyway – is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story.’
Rewriting arguably trumps prewriting in importance, as a fiction project can theoretically be embarked upon without any planning at all. It can also make up for any planning deficiencies; with time, talent and drive, there are no narrative problems that can’t be fixed. According to Dr. Marc D. Baldwin, owner of Edit 911, a business staffed entirely by PhD-holding editors, rewriting is crucial for chipping away extraneous details and strengthening constructions.
Busybird Publications Editor Les Zigomanis wrote in his article ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’:
‘If there’s one nifty comparison [to writing], it’s more like sculpting. The shape’s in the stone. It’s about chiselling to get that shape as right as you can.’
Stephen King shared a similar belief in an interview with Writer’s Digest:
‘When the story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.’
To summarise: rewriting is the stage where redundancies are removed; the writer scours their manuscript for anything problematic, and strengthens their ideas and communication in order to tell their tale in the most efficient and economic way.
Prewriting, writing and rewriting are hugely beneficial steps to good fiction writing. Writers would do well to implement all three into their working process.
- King, S 2000, On Writing, Scribner, New York.
- Lamott, A 2008, Bird by Bird, Scribe Publishing, Carlton North.
- Truss, L 2003, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Profile Books Ltd, Great Britain.
- Zigomanis, L 2011, ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’, Page Seventeen, 9, June 2011, pp. 25–30.
- Aaron, R 2011, ‘How I Went from Writing 2,000 to 10,000 Words a Day’, Pretentious Title, viewed 30th April 2014, <http://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html>
- Baldwin, Dr. B n.d., ‘Book Editing by Published Authors’, Edit911, viewed 1st May 2014, <http://edit911.com/book-editing/>
- N.p, M, 2012, ‘Top 3 Elements of Writing Process – Prewriting – Writing – Rewriting’, customessayhelp.com, viewed 30th April 2014, <http://www.customessayhelp.com/blog/writing-skills/top-3-elements-of-writing-process-prewriting-writing-rewriting/>
- Petit, Z 2012, ’13 Stepehn King Qutoes on Writing: Your Moment of Friday Zen’, Writer’s Digest, viewed 30th April 2014, <http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/13-stephen-king-quotes-on-writing-your-moment-of-friday-zen>
- ‘Prewriting’ n.d., Duke University Thompson Writing Program, viewed 30th April 2014, <https://twp.duke.edu/writing-studio/resources/academic-writing/prewriting>
- Smith, C 2014, ‘Novel Ideas: Alexander McCall Smith Interview’, Otago Daily Times, viewed 1st May 2014, <http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/arts/300582/novel-ideas>
- Wood, G 2009, ‘Raymond Carver: the kindest cut’, The Guardian, viewed 1st May 2014, <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/sep/27/raymond-carver-editor-influence>
- Zigomanis, L 2014, ‘Ten Excuses’, Busybird Publishing, viewed 1st May 2014, <http://www.busybird.com.au/?p=3502>
 ‘Prewriting’ n.d., Thompson Writing Program, Duke University
 Smith, C 2014, ‘Novel Ideas: Alexander McCall Smith Interview’, Otago Daily Times
 Aaron, R 2011, ‘How I Went from Writing 2,000 to 10,000 Words a Day’, Pretentious Title
 Zigomanis, L 2014, ‘Ten Excuses’, Busybird Publishing
 Waihenya, W 2013, ‘One thing about writing is that it is hugely exhilarating’, Daily Nation
 Wood, G 2009, ‘Raymond Carver: the kindest cut’, The Guardian
 Truss, L 2003, ‘Introduction – The Seventh Sense’, Eats, Shoots & Leaves
 King, S 2000, On Writing, Scribner
 Baldwin, Dr. M n.d., ‘Book Editing by Published Authors’, Edit911.com
 Zigomanis, L 2011, ‘Writers Write: The Ten Commandments of Writing (Maybe)’, Page Seventeen
 Petit, Z 2012, ‘13 Stephen King Quotes on Writing’, Writer’s Digest
I’m obsessed with Future Islands at the moment and implore people to check out at least a minute of this, the most joyous live performance I’ve ever seen. It’s confounding and brilliant, and I could compare it and its singer to a hundred other things, but I’d rather enjoy it for what it is.
Emma says I dance like this when I get really into it, which is sort of funny, but mostly mortifying. I remember getting separated from my friends one time at some club on the Gold Coast. I made the best of it and danced on my own. This nearby couple started talking to me and pointed out that I was out of time with the beat. They weren’t dicks about it; it was more like a casual pointer to a fellow drunk. I just smiled and was like cool, yeah, thanks. I then fist-pumped and declared I dance to my own fucking beat. Not really, but I think it was implied.
Play the song, you jerk.
Also, here’s some esoteric nonsense I wrote yesterday to shake off the doldrums. I once found writing free-form poetry extremely liberating. When I write prose, I feel like the weight of the world’s on my shoulders. I don’t identify as a poet, so if I write a shitty poem it’s like who cares? The world won’t end. (I accept full responsibility if it does.) Anyway, thought I’d try to see if I could recapture that old feeling.
In the spirit of embarrassing dancing, here’s this.
Enjoy. Or don’t. Whatever.
Been getting ’round lately
on a giant bird:
casts a shadow
over most things.
problems below are to scale,
so adrift they’re cast:
to be dealt with by some
other version of me
(that can’t be conceived,
let alone actualised).
Peace of mind
slips between bars;
through cracks in fingers.
They disappear on the wind.
I’m unseen and
hold no candles.
Search the self
(as one is wont to do
on bird back),
falter at locked doors
whose passwords were
misplaced years ago
and whose handles
rusted in the sea air.
Dive and swoop,
disappearing for days
the depths of my loneliness,
never seen the bottom.
The skyline grows hazy,
are waves, cresting,
and this is very much
the middle of the ocean.
Just a heads-up that my short story, ‘Australia’, has been published in the inaugural issue of The Literary Nest. It’s a fictionalised account of my migration to Australia and is written in a child’s point of view (a rarity for me). Check it out here, if you’re interested.
Edit: Story was originally written with unpunctuated dialogue (ala Cormac McCarthy). With my permission, the journal’s editor has inserted quotation marks, but – Diva Tom alert – I’ve just noticed her efforts were somewhat haphazard. So, yeah, there are minor formatting issues. I’m aware, but not responsible. Enjoy! </anal-retentiveness>