Drafting The Creative Compass

Confusion is a word we have invented for an order which is not yet understood.

                                                -Henry Miller

Sierra-Dan-Reading

Sierra on DRAFT:

Which draft? By the time I began what I’d call drafting — composing the chapters that would constitute the book’s first major section, DREAM — two drafts had already gone by, only I hadn’t been forced to think of them as drafts.

The first represented my dad’s solo effort. The second formed the proposal: Fifty-eight pages describing the book we were then calling “Reams and Dreams,” including three sample chapters — two of them personal essays and a dialogue that wouldn’t make it into the final manuscript.

For writers, the proposal keeps the act of producing a book within the realm of imagination. It feels like an act of dreaming, not drafting.

Only then came the morning before Barack Obama’s election to a second term, and we found ourselves reviewing a contract. The moment for doubt and terror had finally arrived. Once we signed on the dotted line, we’d have to draft for real.

Except that it’s more difficult to feel intimidated by a project you’ve already begun. We had three samples chapters after all; we hadn’t yet decided to scrap the dialogue, then twenty-five percent of our material. We had a detailed outline of section and chapter titles. By then we’d even finished elaborating on each listed chapter in bullet points.

In other words, we’d successfully tricked ourselves.

My dad and I next split up the chapters and retreated into our own space to draft them individually. At first, I aimed to complete one chapter per day, but I quickly fell back on an older strategy: In two to six hours of daily writing, I aimed to produce only the first 300 words of that day’s chapter, knowing that it would be easier to pick up from where I’d left off as I completed each draft the following day, producing about 1,000 words total for the day.

Each writing session — as would be true with each subsequent draft, pointing toward the next — I finished first and then I began.

Dan on DRAFT:

I always trick myself into drafting, writing phrases, pages, and random paragraphs for weeks or months until I officially begin drafting.

For this project, I began writing ten years ago. Aspiring authors wrote me, asking where to begin, how to persist, and what to do with their manuscripts once they were ‘complete.’ In response, I sent out a short essay titled “Writing Reminders and Observations.” Over time that essay evolved into the sticky idea: a longer work that might better serve writers.

After Sierra and I decided to work together, our book proposal became a bridge between the Dream and Draft stage. It’s traditional to pitch a nonfiction book to a publisher with a proposal that summarizes the book’s contents and highlights the author’s ability to help sell the finished work.

While Sierra tackled the book’s structure and content, incorporating topics from my early draft as well as her many ideas, I focused on the marketing sections. We both knew my established platform and fan base would smooth the way to selling the book, all the more so because we’d decided to first approach my longtime publisher, Linda Kramer. Linda wasn’t too familiar with the writing book genre, but she offered us a contract based on her faith in my track record and stated admiration for our proposal.

Once we began drafting, we gave our individual visions free rein, fleshing out chapter topics and bullet points. Perhaps it helped that we shared an ideal reader: Joy, my wife and Sierra’s mom. I also wrote for all those aspiring authors who’d contacted me over the years.

Read the next post in the series.

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