Story Mapping

I map out in advance. The ending is in sight. But … ! The map constantly changes as I go along. The ending advances or retreats or dis­solves and changes completely as new angles creep in. But I must have the map and the definite goal before I start.

I can, and sometimes do, “let the story tell itself as I write,” but the result is appalling. I must set a goal and make each paragraph and each incident carry the action along toward that definite end.

I do, sometimes, write the last two pages, and a few pages here and there in the body, or work out a choice incident, or one that presents the most difficulties in the way of brief expression, before begin­ning. It is like collecting material. I get it together and fit it in where it seems best suited.

Anyway, when I get the whole thing down on paper, all jumbled as it may be, I rewrite-on the typewriter trying to use my brain as I go along, and then view the result. Usually I mark, cut and interline every page, using a system of proof-reading all my own, then-rewrite. I do this three or four times.

Then comes the final draft. How careful I am to get this exactly right! No erasures, no vague sentences, no mis­spelling, no “wrong” words. Then, when it is done I read it over. Alas! There is a mistake on every page and gross writing everywhere. I check, mark and interline that lovely last copy until it looks like all the rest. Then I flop the carbon copy over and make a new draft using the backs of the second sheets for the carbon so as to preserve both versions in case an editor suggests changes. And I usually find the first version the better!

Upon reading this final and hard-boiled edition I am no better satisfied with it than with any of the others and could go on cutting and revising forever, but I call it quits and lay it in the laps of the gods of the editorial offices. Most of my stories so far have been sent back for some change before final acceptance. I certainly do appreciate that and I take great pleasure in the revising. For then, and then only, do I know how the story is striking the editors and, when I know that, I can revise like a bear-cat.

At last I am on solid ground, whereas before I have been groping on quick­sand. I like to revise and when I know exactly what an editor wants I have always been able to deliver the goods. It is not only inspirational, but I work with a surety I do not feel when fighting along with the preliminaries.

American singer, songwriter, author of western yarns, 1890-1970