It has been said you write your first draft for yourself, and the second for your readers. This was vividly brought home to me as I was writing about Calgary’s recent flood for an online course. My first essay focused on my experiences during the critical first day as I visited sites, watched raging floodwaters, talked to people at an evacuation centre and navigated erratic traffic. My first draft did not include much background of the city and my locations, as I knew where I was. When I came to my second draft, I tried to fill in for my readers. But I obviously hadn’t done enough; responses from my instructor and other colleagues, all American, were frank.
“The writer seems to have pretty high mobility in the middle of a serious flood, so I feel left out of that picture. I was surprised the writer takes an excursion and wonder what she drives….SUV? Jeep?” “Why does the speaker decide to do regular life things like her early morning walks and paying her mortgage?”
I realized then that my readers might have been remembering New Orleans, a city which was 80% flooded. My readers might themselves be living in flat areas that would be totally inundated in a flood. I hadn’t written that I lived on high ground, with my area removed from the flooding. I hadn’t described Calgary’s deep river valleys carved by glaciers that flooded downtown and communities built along the floodplains, while most of the sprawling city is above the river valley, some parts as far away from the rivers as ten miles.
I quickly e-mailed the missing background, and one responder said she now understood and could relate better to my situation.
These descriptive details are what Pierre Berton, in his book, The Joy of Writing, calls “texture”. Texture enriches the writing, giving character and uniqueness to a place, person or situation—all those details I so love in others’ writings. And it enables the reader’s own experiences, memories and mental images to resonate, so that they have an adequate base from which to fill in any other details.
This was a vivid learning experience for me, and I will be more conscious of texture in my future writing.