I have always admired people could write in a way that required minimal drafts. Some people I know write in a calm, slow pace and what they "lay down on the track" stays pretty close to what is printed. The ratio to what is written and what is used in a final draft is relatively low.
I don't write like that. I need layers, and more layers. Sometimes there are whole portions that I cut from my writing. The ratio of what I write to what gets printed is very high. I think higher than other writers, but I can't say for sure.
I almost always write with fountain pens and drawing pencils. I don't like to write on a computer for the early drafts. I like the feel of the pen scratching on the surface,making a mark, a cut of line. It reminds me of how I feel when I draw, the same cutting of lines upon the surface. I don't feel that same tactile experience when I type on a computer. I was one of those kids that never stopped drawing. I could not read until I was about 8, and I always found the act of drawing to be a liberating one- from the frustration that I would often feel with the written text. I had dyslexia, and often write in different colour inks and different coloured paper.
I love the writing, and rewriting. I love drafts, and more drafts. I love the process more than the final product.
Neechie Hustle was 17 years in the making. I started writing it around the time the Crow Hop Cafe emerged in Regina. That was showcase of Indigenous songs, writing and storytelling. I worked on the characters, developing them over time. Then, writing more pieces with the characters for CBC radio (both locally and nationally). Over time, I really felt that I got to know the characters- that I had spent a lot of time in their skin and in the body of their experience.
I had the basic idea of the novel early on, but in many ways the process of writing it was character driven. By having a chance to test the characters on stages (literally stages), I was able to develop, and shape, and reshape these characters. I could see what parts of the characters resonated with audiences and which ones didn't.
I had hundreds of pages of writing over time for Neechie Hustle. Eventually, I got rid of these drafts. I am not one to hoard drafts. I think that once the draft has served its purpose, and once one knows clearly what direction things are going
I think of the impermanence of the drafts, and the way they become flames as I burn them. It is like a release. I think drafts are important, but I think that we should make fetishes of the drafts. Eventually, we have to let them go.
There were times were I would put aside the writing of Neechie Hustle for months at time, but I would always return to it. The fact that it was not finished always would bother me, and I did not want the characters that I had grown to love become silent in the folds and the edges of the pages that I had written.
Drafts, and more drafts. I would call myself a process writer. I have always been more interested in the process, and the journey of how the story unfolds. I always think of the way the Cree storytellers I learned from would tell their stories. The act of telling them was the most important element. And, there was fundamentally an impermanence to this act. Drafts, and more drafts. All of the spaces between these, is what I love best about being a writer and writing.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.