I often speak on the topic of “Writing for Fun and Profit. One of the most frequent questions asked is “How do you write? Do you outline? Start without stopping? Rewrite?
The answer is that i first create a very tough outline with pivot points that roughly correspond with chapters. Then I write and refine (rewrite) write and refine agin, probably four or five times. Then move on to the next chapter’s first draft. Every few chapters I go back to the start and polish. I analogize this process to what a sculptor must do. First is the clay (the idea), then the rough outline of the finished work, then the constant sculpting and re sculpting. The previous draft is my first “fingers to keyboard” draft of the first few pages of chapter one. The purpose is to paint a word picture that will draw the reader in to want to read more. The draft below is the second of several, or perhaps many, drafts before the final manuscript is ready. Compare the previous draft with the one below and you’ll see how the beginning of a piece of virtual clay becomes a final work of art.
One of the sun’s rays fell across Katie’s face, burning her eyelids shut with a burst of light. Other rays joined in, peeking through the huge plate glass picture window. The harsh insolation revealed milky white complexion of a woman whose skin tone suffered from too much time spent indoors.
She squeezed the flimsy clamshell shutters together, trying to keep the harsh reality of daylight at bay.
Somewhere in a distant corner of dreamland came a jarring voice, howling her name in a soft whisper. “Katie, Monday morning. Another day at the office waits for you.”
She pulled the pillow over her head to no avail. The rhythm of her circadian clock rang in a new day.
“Vat time, Old Man?” she mumbled groggily to the figure that had been standing in the doorway.
In reply she heard the gentle thumping of feet on stairs, returning the speaker to his morning routine.
Katie sat up, stretched, pried open, then squinted her eyes several times, gradually allowing the brightness to penetrate nearly-closed slits. Wiping away the sleep like a child, with balled-up fists, she stretched again then lazily abdicated the coziness of the soft bed. She stood and arranged her twisted nightgown as the silky teal blue comforter slid from the bed and wrapped itself around her thick ankles. Kicking it aside, she strode to the dresser. Water in the half-filled basin atop the chest of drawers cooled her face and removed its mask of slumber.
Slowly she turned from the chest and studied her reflection in the full-length mirror. The looking glass presented a Rubenesque figure, considered attractively plump in the early twentieth century. The image staring back at her revealed an alluring woman, pretty without the waif-like body and athletic build she’d brought from Croatia. Had Katie Novak lived in the seventeenth century instead of the twentieth, she certainly would have graced the canvas as one of artist Peter Paul Rubens fleshy models. But she knew nothing of such things. She knew only of her business, her husband, and her children.
“Things be look up for me,” mused Katie Novak, speaking to her reflection in her singulr broken language. “When I come this country, I was little girl with big dreams. Now I big girl with big business, two baby, old man for take care house and baby. I got nice life. Worst ting is get dressed in fine lady’s clothes for work. Need help for dat.”
She pulled the full skirt over her ample hips and raised her voice, “Hey Old Man, come lace me up.”
Pete, patiently feeding their two children breakfast, reached across the table to wipe both chewing mouths with a dish cloth, “Keep eating your breakfast, little ones. I’ll be right back.”
He spoke in his native Bosnian-Serb language as he wiped egg drippings from gooey chins, and oatmeal from the table. Little Ruža, age three, and eighteen-month old Little Petey smiled as they watched their father’s every move.
Hanging the soiled dish cloth over the back of his chair, Pete hiked up his Blue Buckle Overalls and took the steps two at a time. He loved this time of morning, family all together and early morning chores completed. He had already milked the cow, fed the chickens, and gathered eggs for breakfast. Now he hurried to help his lovely Katie dress for work.
She listened as the thumps on the stairs grew louder until he reached the top, turned into the master bedroom and gave thought to his good fortune.
During his youth as an indentured servant, and even his early days in America he could not have imagined owning his own home and small farm, having two wonderful children and a successful businesswoman wife.
Pete strode into the bedroom, picked up the discarded comforter and tossed it on the bed that he would make after she left for work. “Okay, my beautiful wife, we will get you ready for your customers.”
The late summer day promised to be sunny and cloudless. Beams of light spilling over the unmade poster bed beckoned the couple to the large window of the second story bedroom. An expanse of beauty stood before them; steel mills belching smoke that meant prosperity for their community. Behind the bustling mills ran the mighty Monongahela River, its forward surge making a mad dash downstream toward Pittsburgh. Beyond the river, the sandy bank lies a hillside of green grass, shaded by large trees and a yet-unnamed hollow. The stunning view before them, one of the best in the bottom land of Clairton, Pennsylvania is their home site.
From the family home comes a discordance of Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian languages, all Balto-Slavic, and similar enough that a speaker of one comprehends the others. Most immigrants to the area speak a pidgin conglomeration that is understood by all. Katie had struggled to learn the English language needed to operate her business. She’d mastered the message if not the syntax.
“You men so lucky. Pair pants, shirt, work boots. Take you two shakes of lamb’s tail for get dress. I haf take all morning. One day womens gon’ haf easy job dress. Like man.”
The husband spoke practically no English, choosing instead to use his native Bosnian, or in a pinch, German. Whenever Katie prodded him to learn more English he responded, “I speak two languages. That is all that fits in my brain. I’m too old to learn another. Besides, I’m a farmer. My plants understand me. My animals understand me. My family understands me. Anybody else with a question in English can ask you.”
“You crazy, Old Man. Help me finish dress. I no want be late for open office.”
As Pete dressed Katie she peered out the large window across the river and along the rolling hills. A breeze created a whirlwind that scooped up a pile of leaves that lay scattered among the massive oak trees. She watched the leaves dance as she held in, twisted and contorted her body to help her husband with his task. She moved in time with the blowing leaves that hinted of fall colors to come; yellow, orange, red, and brown waiting to replace the green of late summer.
After pulling and straining to wrench the long skirt over her head, the stubborn garment fell into place over her white starched blouse, and the dance wound down. Pete helped cinch, tie, tug, hook, clasp, and otherwise serve as an expert clothier for his young bride, then kissed her on the cheek and returned downstairs to finish feeding the children.