Tuesday, 30 December 2008


I took a week off over Christmas to write fanfiction, but the week is now over, so this week I'm changing gears to write Now and Rome.

The differences between the two kinds of writing are interesting. I have to draft and redraft a lot more with theory than I do with fanfic: in fanfic, as J pointed out to me (she was reading what I wrote on a day-by-day basis), I tend to get the words right first time - though I have terrible trouble with structure and plot and narrative order and, you know, everything that's not on the level of the sentences - but in theory, I have to go through usually five to ten drafts for everything. I worked out this morning that it's because, strangely enough, there's something much more private about the way I write theory: what I write down first of all tends to be a note-to-myself. So it never quite captures the thought that I have - it's more of a footprint of the thought (and a footprint doesn't look like a boot), and it also never quite makes sense to other people, because it's in such a private language. So I end up having to go through it all over and over again, trying to find a way of expressing the thought which is both closer to the thought itself and clearer to other people. Who was it who said, when someone asked them who they wrote for, 'Myself, and strangers?' That's actually what deconstruction is all about, the way that language has to be for strangers - thought has to go through that detour into the public realm of language in order to make sense even to oneself. But anyway. That's the double movement that the writing has to go through.

And of course the same holds for fanfiction: if I was just in it for myself I wouldn't write down stories, I'd just daydream (I do lots of that too, obviously). A great deal of the pleasure I get from writing fanfiction is trying to put physical sensations and emotional states into words, when there aren't words for them, really. But that 'for-strangers' thing is more built into the writing process of fanfic for me, I think. I mean that when I write theory I have an idea and I scribble down something which reminds me of that idea, and then through progressive drafts I get the idea clearer and clearer, both in-itself and for-others. But when I write fanfic, I visualize and experience the scene quite clearly, and then the process (and the pleasure) is all about translating that immediate experience* into language, for strangers. There isn't really an intermediate stage where I write for myself. I wonder why? And I don't think that would change if I was writing 'original' fiction - I wrote a realfic novel in my mid-20s, and started two or three others in my teens, and I think the feeling of writing fiction has stayed remarkably consistent all that time. (I also tend to mix original characters with canon characters in fanfic, and I never feel particularly different about the way I write them - they do stuff, I watch them and write it down, and whether they're played by Alan Rickman or an imaginary person in my head doesn't really make any odds.)

But this isn't getting my book written!

*Of course - I add hastily in case any of my MA students are, by some chance, reading this (hello, if you are, I hope you are all having excellent vacations) - there is no such thing as immediate experience, there are only chains of differential marks. But still.


Beppie said...

That's really interesting. I think I do something similar, in that when I'm writing theory, expression is secondary in the first draft-- the important thing is to get the ideas on the screen, because I'll lose track of my ideas otherwise. With fic, on the other hand, I have the sense that being lazy with the details of my expression in the first draft will lead to poor characterisation, an inconsistent or clunky narrative voice, etc. (Of course, my supervisor would probably argue that being lazy in earlier drafts of my thesis leads to poorly developed ideas, so...)

Of course, for myself, I'm not sure that the two are comparable simply because I've never completed a fic longer than about 3000 words, while with theory, I've got my thesis (which still isn't finished, but at least I've done a first draft).

I do find that there are certain similarities on a larger structural level in the way that I work though, in that my writing is rarely linear. I'll write my introduction/opening paragraph first, most of the time, but beyond that I usually have a few ideas or images that I can see clearly, and I'll often move onto those, even if I know that they belong towards the middle or end of the argument/story, and I'll join everything up later.

Have you read The Writer's Tale by Russell T Davies? Although Davies is a linear writer himself, I found a lot of what he said about the process of writing so very familiar, even though he was talking about Doctor Who and I was thinking about my thesis.

Ika said...

I have the sense that being lazy with the details of my expression in the first draft will lead to poor characterisation, an inconsistent or clunky narrative voice, etc.

Yes! This, exactly. And I don't think the risk is the same with theory, for some reason. Which is odd, because obviously theoretically I'm completely opposed to the idea that you can separate thoughts from language (signified from signifier) in any simple way, but somehow in terms of the writing *process*, it's very different... Actually, I think it's something to do with a different materiality in each process. That the material of fic is daydream/visualization/character or something, but the material of theory is words/language/ideas. So you spend more time in theory slapping the words around [like clay, not in a violent way, I mean!], working with the words, like an abstract painter, following the qualities of the words, whereas with fic, most of the shaping is on the level of the scene, rather than on the level of the words... No, I've lost myself again there. Never mind.

And I tend not to write linearly either (in fact I was just reminded to respond to this comment right now this minute because I had to cut a whole section out of the chapter of N&R I'm working on this week into a new document, to try and make it make sense before I figure out where in the chapter it fits). That used to go for fic, too, but then the one I've just finished is novel-length (75,000 words, I'm a bit gobsmacked about it) and I ended up having to write much more linearly - sometimes I could put in [scene with H&H here showing X,Y,Z] and go on to the next scene, but I had to work the scenes in order. That's not at all how I work in shorter fic, but apparently when I get to novel-length I can really fuck things up for myself if I go out of order - the different strands (emotional, narrative, etc) get out of synch and I can't synch them up again.