Writer’s Diary #9: On Freewriting a First Draft

Writing Diary #9 – On a Morning Draft

For the first time in a long time, I woke up this morning and started writing at 5:30. It felt good. With a cup of coffee in hand, I sat at the kitchen table as the sun came up and the birds sang. I began working on the first draft of some notes that had come to me the day before and the day before that while I was occupied with other tasks.

I had wanted to write these ideas down the day before yesterday, but I let them linger as I went to bed. My concept for the introduction to the book is that writing is an apprenticeship. Just as my first book was an apprenticeship in gold mining, this book is an auto-apprenticeship in writing.

So I sat down at the keyboard and wrote freely, without forethought, without editing. I followed the method Peter Elbow outlines in Writing Without Teachers. At times, I do this longhand, but this morning I used an electronic typewriter, a rather embarrassing and expensive FreeWriter Smart Typewriter by Astrohaus.

After about five minutes, I had a very rough draft—raw material to work with.

Writers often think and talk about writing as a cerebral activity. But I’ve come to see it as a movement between the cerebral and the use of different tools. It’s as much a cerebral process as it is a manual one. Here, tools matter. Gabriel García Márquez, in his memoir Living to Tell the Tale, describes writing as a kind of carpentry, which requires a lot of technique and craft to hide the joinery. It’s a fitting metaphor. Carpenters use tools, and so do I.

I created a draft through freewriting; applied automatic copy and style editing; revised iteratively and intuitively; edited automatically; revised once more iteratively and intuitively.

Specifically, ChatGPT was a copy editor, DeepL Writer’s beta writing app changes some words, then ProWritingAid fixed grammar and style, and then I had a piece of text to revise using George Saunders, Swim in a Pond in the Rain idea of making iterative and intuitive edits on the page. That is, each pass, I made a myriad of small changes, based on gut feelings. After doing this three or four times, I had this draft, which I left it for a few days, before one more pass. I took screenshots, to illustrate the process. Crucially, automatic editors are helpful, but automatic writer are not. There is a distinction, I’ll write about sometime.

Draft #1: Freewrite

I free wrote the following, on a Freewrite Smart Typewriter by Astrohaus, an ridiculously expensive electronic typewriter, which, like a typewriter, has little distractions.

Note the typos.

Draft 1

Draft #2: Use Chat GPT as a copy editor

I pay for ChatGPT 4, and used the following prompt ti copy edit that first drafts. Here, ChatGPT 4 has replaced my own labour of fixing typos.

Imagine yourself as an AI copy editor, proof reader, and substantive editor. and I will provide you with a text between double quotes, and without making substantive changes, can you spell check, grammar check, punctuate, and split into paragraphs at logical places, and include other revisions in the body of the text in square brackets. Please do this using markdown, in a code block: “…”

Since, I am always concerned about ChatGPT inventing text I didn’t write, I compare it text carefully to the original, in BBEdit using the compare text function. The text is the same, but copy edited.

Draft 2

Draft #3: Use DeepL’s Write

There, I turn to DeepL Write’s AI editor, that will suggest stylistic revisions. They’re good.

Draft 3

Draft #4 – ProWriting Aid

Next, I turn to ProWritingAid, and accept all its style and grammar suggestions.

Draft 4

Draft #5 – Revise with a reader over your shoulder

Drawing on George Saunders book, I undertook a process of reading and as I read, revising as I went intuitively and iteratively.

Draft 5

Draft 6 – Automatic Copy Editing

Then back to ChatGPT, DeepL, ProWriting Aid, then revising through iterative intuition.

Draft 6

Draft 7 – Revise intuitively and iteratively

More intuitive revision.

Draft 7

Draft 8 – Automatic Copy Editing

More copy editing.

Draft 8

Draft 9 – Final Pass

Finally, a few days later, I revised, fixed the images, corrected the URLs, and gave it all a few more passes, without any automatic copy editing.