Saturday, June 5, 2010

Two Modes of Writing

I put in another two good hours of work this morning on my paper for the Children's Literature Association conference next week in Ann Arbor: "Redemption through the Rural in Double Date, Double Feature, and Double Wedding." As I saved my file from the morning's work, I was struck by how different my writing process is for my creative work as opposed to my scholarly work.

I write my children's book manuscripts by hand. I write them slowly, generating only perhaps one handwritten page for an hour's work. I craft each sentence carefully as I go, scribbling and crossing out what I've written until every word feels just right.

I write my scholarly articles on the computer. I charge through the initial draft quickly, slopping down pretty much the whole thing in a few sessions of work. Then I return to the draft again and again, doing massive rewritings. For example, one sentence might initially read, "Introductory sentence about the contradiction at the heart of the pastoral ideal." The rest is left to be filled in later.

Why is my process so different for each kind of work? I can't even IMAGINE writing a children's book directly onto the computer. I can't even IMAGINE writing a scholarly article by hand. I think the difference has something to do with my feeling that somehow I am bringing my characters, their actions, their feelings, their conversations, into being through my my words, that even words laid down carelessly would carry with them a certain reality: I am making this world exist; I am what is causing it to be. Whereas, with my scholarly articles, I have ideas already formed and I just want to get them down on paper, so I can start tinkering with them. And yet, I do have an outline for my stories before I write them. And I do find that my scholarly ideas change enormously as I actually write them down.

Anyway, the conference paper should be done tomorrow. Hooray!


  1. Do you ever do academic or children's writing collaboratively? How does that change your process? My academic writing is almost always done in collaboration, and I am always torn between trying to make the first draft very rough (because my co-authors may want to totally restructure the paper) or perfect (so my co-authors won't think I am stupid). I almost always err on the side of attempted perfection.

  2. Very interesting, Claudia! I wonder if you feel closer to your child self when you write them out by hand. I used to write my books that way, too. I still do my thinking that way, and usually start my chapters by hand, but then I use the computer before things get too messy. I do think that the computer makes me become more of a perfectionist in draft.

  3. Scott, I like the idea of "erring on the side of attempted perfection" - and it's a lovely turn of phrase in its own right. Writing guru Dennis Foley, however, warns against "wallpapering a wall that is only going to be torn down." And yet, sloppy writing affronts me! Clara, I like your thought that I'm closer to my child self when I write by hand.