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Hard Draft

October 7, 2010

In several of the interviews collected in the marvellous Paris Review Interviews books (I do hope they reconsider their decision to end the series after four volumes), authors talk about a method of redrafting which involves retyping their entire manuscript from scratch, to make for a more muscular new draft.

This is something I’ve never done: a ‘hard redraft’, maybe it should be called, as opposed to the ‘soft redraft’ of re-reading on screen, or adding changes to an extant version of the manuscript (my usual method). But, now that I’ve an agent and therefore putting together a new draft has become a matter of risking disappointing someone other than just myself, I’ve been giving it a go, on a long (28,000 words) story: last week I printed out the manuscript and annotated and corrected it by hand, then this week I started a new document and re-entered it on the computer as a new draft.

And it’s been good: it’s made me engage with the story again, in a way I hadn’t in a while. When you work on something for a long time, you take a lot of it for granted (partly out of can’t-be-bothered-altering-it laziness, partly because even the words on a screen seem relatively concrete), and this exercise has made me interrogate the writing a lot more. I think, or hope, it’s strengthened the story. Also, because when I put an initial draft together I worke piecemeal, rather than starting at page one and working through to the final full stop, it’s incredibly useful to work through it chronologically, as it were: conversations between characters, originally pieced together, can be coaxed into flowing more naturalistically; it’s much easier to play with thematic or textual resonances that recur throughout. But it is time-consuming — I’ve been getting through twenty pages, or about 10,000 words, per long (12-hour) day — and intense, too: although the material is all in front of me, it’s felt far more like writing from scratch than I’d anticipated, which is to say exhausting. But good exhausting.

Relatedly or by coincidence, I have had the most extraordinarily vivid dreams each night after a day’s hard redrafting, as though my brain’s been sparked into a more receptive mode by engaging with the story in this new way.


Three musical things getting me through the week (and currently, I guess, my three favourite bands). Firstly, Zola Jesus — real name Nika Roza Danilova — is the singer-songwriter in her early twenties who’s credited/charged with spearheading a Goth revival, having achieved word-of-blog success this year by renouncing her previous sound (operatic vocals seemingly recorded inside a cave: atmospheric but hard going) for, on her Stridulum EP of earlier this year, a more hi-fidelity version: the vocals are still colossal and melodramatic, but they’re matched to more diverse instrumentation and are warmer and more beguiling. The songs themselves sound at first as though they’re going to be doomy and moribund, but the lyrics, sung with such power, are strangely sweet: they’re love songs and, even at her angriest, empathy songs too. Zola is prolific, inasmuch as Stridulum was re-released in the UK with three bonus tracks; these three themselves resurface next week on a further EP, Valusia (out 12th October), with one new song, ‘Poor Animal’, which aims for a sort of death-goes-to-the-disco sound. The Guardian is currently streaming the new song.

I saw her perform live in September in the new-ish London venue the CAMP Basement (been to a few of those in my time, etc), and it was a discomfiting experience: tiny and surprisingly bottle-blond, Danilova paced restlessly up and down the stage and scrabbled at the back wall like a trapped bat as she performed the Stridulum and Valusia songs (a little weak-sounding at the beginning, she hit her stride halfway in, though was hindered throughout by the horrendous stylings of her male backing singer/keyboard player, whose contorted facial expressions and total inability to harmonise scuppered several songs), before crawling through the crowd on hands and knees, seizing up an empty beer bottle and, on the final note of her last song ‘Night’, smashing it into a corner before departing without a further word. Not one of the greatest gigs in the world, but all is forgiven on listening to her dark, powerful records.

The Field have been fairly quiet this year, but emerged with a brilliant remix of a song by (another bloggers’ favourite) Bear in Heaven, ‘Ultimate Satisfaction’, which retains some of the sonic effects of the original tune but jettisons all but half a verse of the vocals, instead concentrating on a beefy, hypnotic and unmistakeably Fieldean second half which recalls the great days where remixers (Aphex Twin, famously, and probably others) lost or despised the original song and handed in something completely original of their own instead. This comes from, and is reputedly the highlight of, a remix album based on Bear in Heaven’s very likeable 2009 debut Beast Rest Forth Mouth: Pitchfork has the MP3 with details of the remix collection here.

Finally, Deerhunter, whose new fourth album (or third, if like singer Bradford Cox you have decided not to count their first LP) Halcyon Digest emerged this week. Most of the watery, instrumental material that characterised their second/first album Cryptograms and seeped somewhat into 2008’s fitfully beautiful Microcastle has vanished; instead this is a collection of robust indie tunes (‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Fountain Stairs’), spectral, atmospheric laments (‘Sailing’, ‘Earthquake’), and beautiful pop songs like ‘Revival’, ‘Memory Boy’. Not for nothing the picture of the Crystals on the back of the CD: Cox’s multi-tracked vocals and the sparkling instrumentation on, especially, ‘Revival’, owe much to sixties wall-of-sound girl groups. The music is intricate and glittering, from the oscillating zing of ‘Revival’ and the multi-layered pizzicato on which closer ‘He Would Have Laughed’ moves, to the merging, interconnecting and bifurcating guitar lines of (current favourite) ‘Desire Lines’, which matches the album’s most complexly lovely song structure to Lockett Pundt’s lyric, which is simple almost the point of mundane (‘Walking free | Come with me | Far away | Everyday’) yet sung with an intensity of yearning that breaks your heart. Nostalgia for what is lost powers much of Halcyon Digest: ‘He Would Have Laughed’ is dedicated to Cox’s friend Jay Reatard, who died in January aged 29, and ‘Helicopter’ is based on a story by Dennis Cooper about the short doomed life of a Russian rent-boy (‘I keep no company, | I have minimal needs, | And now,’ Cox sings, with transcendent sweetness, ‘they are through with me’). It could seem moribund: what saves it is the songs’ gleaming, tumbling optimism, the sound of bad news delivered joyfully.

Deerhunter’s Halcyon Digest minisite, from which ‘Revival’ can be downloaded, is here.

Also this week, the new Philip Roth, Nemesis. About which more soon.


From → Music, Writing

  1. J Luxembourg permalink

    Do you think there’s an value in a ‘mafia draft’ – rewriting the whole thing from memory? For problematic sections/scenes only, obviously. Possibily this only works with scripts, but it does seem to work, there being a reason why certain lines stick in your memory and others don’t.

    The dreams are definitely a Good Sign.

    • saintthefireshow permalink

      Blimey, I don’t know what I would come up with if I had to do it purely from memory. Certainly a good idea for short pieces or scripts. But if you were to repeat the exercise several times (for the same piece of work) would the ‘new’ lines be any better/more remarkable than the ones you couldn’t remember from last time round? ‘The Mafia Draft’ is a great name for something though…

      • J Luxembourg permalink

        I think the Mafia Draft is more useful for improving on the structure of/storytelling in a piece than it is for enhancing the text itself.

        Ansky left his only copy of The Dybbuk, a play he’d written in Yiddish, on a train, and had to reconstruct it from a Russian translation. He was apparently always very unhappy with the text afterwards. There’s nothing worse than the feeling you’ve lost a line that cannot be reconstructed.

      • saintthefireshow permalink

        That certainly makes sense. There’re various nice accounts of authors deciding they’re much happier with the versions they’ve had to reconstruct than they were with the ones that got lost or stolen. (Visions of Jonathan Franzen swearing that the glasses he’s made himself out of milk-bottles and paperclips are “far superior” to the ones that were stolen.)

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