The Surprising Secrets Hidden in Writers’ First Drafts

TV and film writers sometimes forget that we aren’t the only ones who write draft after draft in our quest for perfection (as opposed to when we write draft after draft to ruin what we’ve written so a stubborn, unappreciative producer will pay our fee). Even the best novelists do the same thing. Studying the various drafts is one of the best ways to learn the craft. Cases in point:

by Hephzibah Anderson

Writers who find themselves mired in procrastination would do well to take a page from Marcel Proust’s most famous book. Specifically, a page from In Search of Lost Time in manuscript form. Nothing more powerfully illustrates the truth of that creative-writing-class maxim, ‘writing is rewriting’, than the liberally crossed-out, lavishly annotated, occasionally doodled-upon notebooks in which Proust composed his seminal, seven-volume text.

While their faded ink and age-dappled paper evoke physical fragility, what they showcase is a robust, almost aggressive determination. This is the heavy lifting of literary endeavour made manifest; there is no preciousness here, nothing is sacred. However much Proust doubted himself – and he doubted his chosen art form, too – he pressed on with a monumental task that would occupy him for the rest of his life. As for that iconic morsel of memory-laden cake, the madeleine, it started out as a slice of toast and a cup of tea.

The manuscripts of literary works-in-progress fascinate on many levels, from the flush-faced thrill of spying on something intensely private and the visceral delight of knowing that a legendary author’s hand rested on the paper before you, to the light that such early drafts shed on authorial methodology and intent. Sometimes, the very essence of what a writer is trying to express seems to hover tantalisingly in the gap between a word deleted and another added in its place….

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