Tag Archives: John Donne

Raking the Leaves: Writing is Re-Writing

My friend, the opera  singer calls it raking the leaves, the way, a teacher at the Curtis Institute taught her to play the piano — especially how to sight read at  the keyboard, keeping time without being flustered about how many notes her fingers were missing.

It’s a good analogy to writing practice, to the way a writer must be patient putting down her thoughts, later raking out the weak or inappropriate words, i.e. the deadwood, and passive sentences into a powerful, creative order.  An order that good writers know is itself a form of music.

When writing out your draft: First, pen (or pencil) or type the lines you hear in your head onto the page. Then, read them aloud to yourself. Listening carefully for their “rhythm.”  Now, go back (this is the Raking)!  This time allow yourself to delete or cross out or decide which of the words you’ve put down are the ones you truly want, which ones should move onto the pile for the bonfire or be taken to the dumpster.

Don’t destroy the early drafts too soon. Drafts are mulch.

A writer is always re-writing. Like a gardener, we are always raking, clearing undergrowth, pinching the dead-buds allows the new to bloom faster.

Keep writing. Keep putting down the thoughts that come across your head. This is your voice. Your instrument tuned only to your moods, your feelings, your intellect. Your experiences. Don’t be impatient.

John Donne said it in poem. Patience: hard thing. The hard thing but to pray.