@whatSFSaidWriting Tips #2

Here’s the second tip that I would give any writer (if you want to know the first, it’s here).

No-one can write a great book in one draft.  I’ve never met a single writer who could do that; a book is just too big and complicated.  You need to build it over a number of drafts.  Everyone does this differently – but believe me, everyone does it. 

The best example I can think of is Jon Stallworthy’s Between The Lines: WB Yeats’s Poetry In The Making.  I found this in a second-hand bookshop, and it changed my life.  Stallworthy meticulously went through all of Yeats’s discarded drafts, and reconstructed evidence of exactly how he’d written his poems. 

Here’s the finished text of my favourite Yeats poem, The Second Coming (click on the image to see it large)

Brilliant, isn’t it?  Hard to imagine it could ever have been any other way.  But have a look at the first draft.

“The germans are now to Russia come”???  And look at this – several drafts later.

“The second Birth”?  Clearly, he didn’t even know what the poem was going to be called, well into writing it!  Even very near the end, he was circling around the incredible final image that now seems so inevitable – developing it through sheer bloody-minded trial and error.

When I read this, I realized that even someone I thought of as a genius had to build their work layer by layer, draft by draft.  No-one just sits down and has perfect work pour out of them.  And if this is true of a poem, how much more true must it be of a novel?


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