We were having dinner with a couple friends a few weeks ago and my pal Andrew was asking about a chapter I'd just finished writing for a forthcoming textbook.
"So are you a swooper, or a basher?" he asked me.
"Say what?" I said.
"Vonnegut had this thing about how there are two kinds of writers: swoopers or bashers," he said.
Having never heard this before, I glumly handed Andrew my Vonnegut Fan Club membership card. He was kind enough not to cut it up in front of me.
So according to Vonnegut, writers were either swoopers or bashers.
Swoopers "write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn't work."
Bashers "go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they're done they're done."
Vonnegut himself claimed to have been a basher. He had some weird gendered beliefs about it too, arguing that most men are bashers and most women are swoopers. While I'm not into generalizing based on gender, I do personally fall into the swooper camp. Hard.
My first drafts are messy and cluttered, and full of placeholders for things that I hope will bloom later. I think of them as seeds I drop throughout the story, with the strong suspicion that they'll eventually germinate and bloom. Sometimes into flowers, sometimes into weeds which need pulling.
My partner J. is a basher. It makes for a sitcom-esque experience when we collaborate on things. Because he wants to get it just right. Which is admirable. But I just want to get it, period. Like Elizabeth Gilbert, I hail from the world of "Done is better than good". At least when I'm working with newborn stories. To expect perfection (or completion) with each individual sentence paralyzes me with fear. I'd never start.
Letting everything escape out of me and onto the page without judgment or pressure or expectation is the only way I can write and still like myself after.
I will admit: it would be thrilling to write in a way that you instantly knew when the story was over. I tend to feel like my stories are never 'finished', so much as they slip away and escape.
What about you, dear reader? Are you a swooper? A basher?