The Spiderweb Method of Writing

I’ve just read Lili’s post about finishing her first draft. I agree with her that first drafts are crap. Mine are anyway. I would be horrified if anybody read the first words I type. They are reworked many times before I dare to call it a first draft.

A blank page is a scary thing. Different writers have different methods for filling in the blank page. I read about Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method of writing. That’s not how I do it.

Before I started writing I did a lot of arty/crafty things (everything from patchwork to macrame to photography). I’ve been trying to think of a craft metaphor. In some ways writing a book is like knitting a jumper. A single stitch is just a loop of wool. It unravels so easily. You just have to sit there and keep knitting all those single stitches until you’ve finished a row. Then you have to do more rows until you’ve finished a sleeve, including the hard bits like shaping the armhole. Finally the big pieces are sewn together and you have a functional jumper. All those single loops of wool are part of an intricate, tight fabric.

But with knitting each stitch has to be perfect the first time, each row has to be neat. To correct a mistake, you have to undo the whole thing. That’s where the knitting metaphor falls down.

I think my writing method is more of a Spiderweb method.

I’ve seen docos of spiders building their webs and they start by stringing a single, thin thread, connecting it to any handy protrusion (eg twig or picture frame). Then they gradually fill it in. The first threads are far apart. Then they put more between and finally fill in the spaces. Sometimes they go back and undo a bit and respin it. They might even unhook one of those first key connections and attach it to a different twig. The web starts with a rough and flimsy thread of silk, but ends up tight, strong and complex.
My first words are very, very rough–the bare bones of the narrative in, often, ugly sentences. There are question marks, gaps, paragraphs with ‘she felt’ six times. Once I’ve finished a sequence there’s a sense of relief. Many decisions have been made, (So that’s how Ping got from A to B, I didn’t know that till now!). The story arc is now in place. Then I go back and improve the expression, seed in the detail, build up the emotion. I do that again and again. I delete slabs and rewrite them. I change the order of sentences within a paragraph, the order of paragraphs within a chapter.

I enjoy this part. Hopefully, after three or four run-throughs I don’t cringe when I read it anymore. There might even be a sentence or two I’m quite pleased with. I know when I’m getting close to a finished first draft. I lose the sense that the sequence is something I made up. It starts to feel like something that really happened, that I’m recounting. I could go on tweaking forever, but at some stage I have to stop.
But as Lili says the job isn’t nearly done. Then it gets sent off to the editors and a whole new process of rewriting starts.

4 responses to “The Spiderweb Method of Writing

  1. It’s interesting how the process of writing – particularly novel writing – lends itself to so many metaphors… it’s unique in that way, you sometimes hear people say it’s like painting, starting with a blank canvas and adding layer upon layer – but you rarely hear people describing painting in terms of writing a novel…

    One metaphor I know I’ll never be able to use is likening writing a book to having baby. Which is another one you never hear in reverse. “You’ve just had a baby! What was it like?” “It was a bit like writing a novel.”

    Re the knitting metaphor, I reckon that sometimes there *are* times when the only way to fix the mistake is to undo the whole thing, sadly. Or throw the whole lot in the bin. Speaking from experience here.

  2. Hi Chris,
    Not so sure about the giving birth metaphor. Pregnancy, in my experience, is a time when it’s okay to sleep and eat a lot and your brain goes on holiday, so that Who Weekly seems like a challenging read. Writing involves a lot of staring at a screen and not moving a muscle. Unlike giving birth.
    Perhaps others find it excrutiatingly painful.

  3. Just a question.
    I love writing, when i do a draft, its really werid but when i edit it and type it up i change the entire story around.
    does this happen to you? Like the story changes completley? or is it just me?

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