Various different and, on the surface, unrelated events have made me think about drafting and redrafting.
My thoughts were initially prompted by a decision to write poetry. I have been writing poetry on an occasional and spontaneous basis since I was thirteen years old; starting with no doubt cringe-making teenage angst, and progressing to political commentary. Over more recent years I have used poetry as a vehicle to communicate the often inexpressible experiences of manic-depressive swings to my erstwhile psychiatrist. These poems have not been intended for a wider readership (although I have used one or two, carefully edited, in my research) and I haven’t been concerned with any academic niceties. These poems have almost ‘written themselves’ onto the page and I have rarely redrafted them.
Having taken a detour from my intended doctoral studies and started a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, I intended to continue writing prose, specifically an autoethnographic novel that I’ve started. One month into the semester I had an epiphany. Poetry seems a much more appropriate genre for me to study and write, given my research interests in boundaries, blurred boundaries, crossing boundaries.
Now I am faced with a completely novel set of problems. Leaving aside the study of poetics (something I have never done) and committing to a much more extensive reading of contemporary poets, I am confronted with the issue of writing and rewriting – or drafting and redrafting. ‘Proper’ poems (what is a proper poem?) do not arrive on the page as an emotional splurge. If I am to write poems in a more considered and regular way, about the topics that concern me, I have to get used to writing some initial notes, crafting them into some preliminary attempts at poetry, and then working and reworking, ideally with the help of critical colleagues, until I arrive at a poem that does as much justice to my subject as I can make it. I think that then I probably put it away for a couple of months before revisiting it and potentially reworking it some more.
This may all seem completely unsurprising to most people. I know that many of my acquaintances over the years have redrafted everything from shopping lists, through wedding speeches, to editorials for journals. Perhaps bizarrely, I have never redrafted an academic writing that I’ve done over the years. Obviously I have cut & pasted bits and pieces as I have gone along, and tweaked a sentence here and there. I have researched and read extensively about the topic on which I’m writing, I have made lots of notes, but once I have sat down to write the definitive essay/ article/ chapter I have written it. I suppose that the redrafting has been done in my head over the time before I finally write.
Consequently I am slowly getting to grips with writing something that is more than notes, but much much less than the finished poem – and it is proving a surprisingly difficult and discombobulating thing to do.
The other things that have prompted me to think about redrafting have been two articles relating to the body. Both appeared in Guernica, one discussing fatness, and the other physical disability. In each case I was struck by the way in which the authors were writing about redrafting their thinking – and asking the reader to redraft theirs – about what it means to be fat or disabled. I realise that I may not be used to redrafting academic writing, but in fact I have been engaged in an extensive redraft of my entire life over the past ten years. I have not only redrafted the persona that is presented to the world, but also my thinking about all manner of things.
I just haven’t called it redrafting – I call it growth.