Writing Alchemy: Deconstruction Helps You Pluck, Prune and Cut the Word Weeds with Impunity

by Kendra Bonnett on June 18, 2012

catnav-alchemy-activePost #52 – Memoir and Fiction, Writing Alchemy – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

As part of my commitment to She Writes this week, I just posted another blog about our journey as writers. Yesterday I used Ray Bradbury to illustrate the power of practice and ended up suggesting that we practice with purpose. I call it the Practice Performance.

Today, I turn to Annie Dillard who celebrates the growth we experience even in the space of writing an essay, poem, short story, memoir or novel. She celebrates her journey as writer by cutting out all the words and ideas that appear weak and out of place by the end of her writing. She fully expects that in editing she’ll find herself knee deep in word weeds that must be torn out by their roots. The work will be the better for it.

I’ve posted a video on this over on She Writes, and hope you’ll click through and watch. It’s short but captures, I think, the joy she finds in the writer’s journey.

Make Your Editing Less Painful

Dillard suggests that the best way to proceed is to write in a forward, linear path. Just keep writing, taking time to play with your ideas, build on your thoughts, but always moving forward. This will give your ideas time to strengthen and you the opportunity to gain greater maturity.

I quote from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life:

“The reason not to perfect a work as it progresses is that, concomitantly, original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds, so the early strokes are useless, however fine their sheen. Only when a paragraph’s role in the context of the whole work is clear can the envisioning writer direct its complexity of detail to strengthen the work’s ends.”

She goes on to say:

“Sometimes part of a book simply gets up and walks away. The writer cannot force it back in place. It wanders off to die.”

She’s right, of course. And we’ve all experienced the initial frustration of having to let go of our precious words. We fought for those words; it’s no wonder we hate to part with them. But once the cuts are made, the ideas simplified, we know the truth. The writing is better.

If only we could make the task less arduous. Less destructive.

Matilda and I think that is exactly what you can do. And it’s the reason we wrote Writing Alchemy: How to Write Fast and Deep. We call the process pre-writing or Deconstruction. The concept is simple. Rather than rambling on, word after word, paragraph after paragraph, developing your idea and hoping you’ll find a few strong ideas at the end of your journey, we suggest you do all your heavy lifting before you start to write.

Deconstruction helps you go deep into a character’s personality, behavior and motivations before you write her story. Deconstruction further allows you to:

  1. Dissect emotions,
  2. Play with dialogue,
  3. Plumb your memory or creativity (depending on whether the work is memoir or fiction), and
  4. Build a context in time and place.

You’ll still grow as a writer. You’ll still find thoughts and ideas that you decide, in the end, to edit out. But much of your journey of discovery will occur during the Deconstruction process. Where you and your ideas are free to wander and develop. We think Deconstruction has one significant advantage over developing your ideas as you write: You can put all your creativity and energy into the ideas. You don’t have to worry about finding the perfect word or writing a grammatically correct sentence. All that comes later–with Construction.

In Deconstruction, you are single-minded and focused on the elements of the story: theme, message, character analysis/development, emotions, dialogue, sensory detail and time/place. You will find the essence of your story and the best elements for telling it. It’s a formula for writing that may just make the editing process faster and less painful. If you are developing and honing your ideas in the formative pre-writing or Deconstruction stage–before you put your energy into sentence structure and word choice–you’ll be more likely to prune, pluck and cut the weaker ideas, the word weeds, with impunity.

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Writing Alchemy memoir book, memoir writing book, how to write a memoir, memoir edition of writing book, how to tell a storyWe’ll post more articles about Writing Alchemy in the coming months. Have you placed your pre-order yet? Until June 25, you can save $10 by clicking here.

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