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Entries in revision (7)


Revise less?

An interesting article about our writerly obsession with revision and how it's actually a new trend:

“The ideal environment for revision is one where you can preserve several different versions of a text,” Sullivan says. With only one in-progress draft on a computer, we lose the cues that led the Modernists to step back from their work and to revise it. “It’s that moment of typing things up that led to the really surprising and inventive changes,” Sullivan says. “The authors came back to their text, but it seemed estranged.”

So why do we continue to champion revision? Sullivan suggests it’s partly due to the literary ideals and habits we’ve inherited from the Modernists. She also mentions the professionalization of creative writing, which pushed authors like Carver and Oates to teach at universities. “Writers need to look more like professors and to discuss their laborious processes,” Sullivan says. “‘We can’t teach you how to write, but we can teach you how to revise.’ And it’s a big business.”

Read the rest here!

My writing classes at Emerson and Trinity were absolutely all about revision. If I ever get to teach creative writing at the college level, I'm going to insist on creating a Writer's Bootcamp course that will stress output over perfection. It's tough to shut off the critical mind, especially when you've honed it to the point that it has something to say the second your creative mind opens its mouth.


Reflections on Week Fifteen

[Read the completed challenge here!]

I wrote 1,231 words several weeks ago and then got side-trekked by other writing projects/life. Yesterday morning I sat down to finish the story and realized there was nothing more to add. There was, however, much to subtract.

You see, after using the same approach I used for Week Ten (printing out the story, using scissors to cut between each paragraph, and then rearranging the bits until a narrative started to emerge), I realized that what I had written was one complete story and half of a different one. 

And by the way, I really can't recommend enough this literal cut-and-paste approach to revision. It can snap you out of the sense of inevitability your draft has after the fifth time you've read it. It allowed me to see that I could bookend the piece with my dreams about falling and flying. (In my original draft, these several paragraphs are two paragraphs randomly in the middle of the piece.) It allowed me to compare and contrast my parents' views about life after death, and use that to create a narrative about my own journey to what I currently believe.

Also, Scientology.

All of those pieces were in the rough draft, but that's not the story it told. I don't know if I would have found the story I did without paper and scissors. 

So that's how! And I'm also excited to finish the other story that came out of this. I think it has the potential to be one of my better yarns.

Next up, an announcement! And then, Week Sixteen!


Reflections on Week Ten

[Read the completed story here!]

This one was shockingly not at all difficult for me. Is it that Microfiction Week detonated all my blocks and barriers, or did Dean Wesley Smith's advice inspire me to better discipline, or both? Whatever the case, I seem to have a much easier time with nonfiction than I do with fiction. Writing Week Five's story (once I knew what to write) was also a great experience. 

I drafted this a bit differently than the others: probably for the first time ever, I put no pressure on myself for this thing to make sense. In my half-hour each morning I would just try to capture a few moments or feelings I remember having during my year as an adjunct college professor. These little scenes were in no order whatsoever, and I didn't have any idea how each of them (or any) would fit into a larger narrative. (In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott advises trying to describe only what you could see in a one-inch by one-inch picture frame. Without realizing this at the time, it's pretty much what I was doing here.)

Once I had over 2,000 words, I printed it off and cut each vignette into a separate strip of paper. Then I launched a hostile takeover of the kitchen table, as can be seen below:

[Yesthose scissors are pink.]

I know I've read a few times that this is a great way to revise a story, but of course I've always been too much of a procrastinating perfectionist control freak to actually give it a try. I'm glad I didI was pretty easily able to group the slips by chronological sequence and emotional throughline. Several of them didn't fit anywhere, and that too was quickly apparent. And some others were created in revision to bridge gaps. 

I'm pretty happy with the end result, but kind of sad that I had to stop. I didn't touch at all on all the plagiarism (unintentionial and the other kind) I encountered, or the challenge of teaching non-native English speakers something I barely understood myself. At some point down the road, once I have some distance, I'll probably revisit this piece and expand it, maybe even submit it somewhere. 

Anyway, give it a read and tell me what you think!


Reflections on Week Nine

[Read the completed stories here!]

That was the most fun I've had with one of these yet. It was also the most organized I've beenprompts were scheduled to be posted in advance (you don't really think I was up at 4am do you?) and I had already completed each challenge a day or two before they were due. This gave me time to revise if needed. 

Also, because the goal was truly just to burn through these truly awful "ideas," I was able to relax and experiment a bit more than usual. 

And, folks, we didn't even get through all of them. I mean, these prompts are all terrible to some extentI was learning, okay?!but many more are, well, like Wednesday's

We'll have to do another microfiction week soon. Perhaps real soon!

Week Ten will be posted next Tuesday, as I am on vacation until then. You will just have to wait. I know, I know. And I am sorry. 

Okay, I'm vacation sorry. It's an insincere sort of regret. That's the best I can do for you.

See you soon!



Week Eight: Revision in progress!

Quick update: the revised draft of Week Eight's story is with my editor (girlfriend). Spent a couple hours last night after work making some longhand revisions. I highly recommend this approach: your writing just looks different on paper, making it easier to see the writing as writing rather than as the sacred work you labored over for many weeks. 

I also did that thing that several "how to" books recommend you do (and about which, of course, I have gleefully read but never actually tried), which is where you pull out pages and group them by character, or theme, or whatever. In my case, having written this thing over several months, and very quickly at the end, I hadn't actually read the whole story from start to finish. I was afraid that I had repeated a few emotional beats, and wanted to track the protagonist's growth over the course of the story.

So anyway, being able to see what Kyra realized on page 8 and then again on page 10 made the subtraction part of the revision process much easier. (And being able to cross out large swaths of text via fountain pen is very satisfying.) The end result is, I hope, a much more polished draft that reads like an actual short story.

But we'll have to see what my editor says...


Pixar's story rules... with Legos! And where is Week Seven?

As follow-up to yesterday's post, and because really what isn't better with Legos, behold:

Pixar's story rules as illustrated by Legos, courtesy of ICanLegoThat.

In the "Where the $%*# is Week 7's challenge?!" department, I wanted to let the rough draft cool off for a week before revising and posting. It needs just a little more love, but I'm unsure if it's unconditional or tough love it needs. In On Writing, Stephen King recommends tossing the rough manuscript in a drawer for at least a month, but it's a short manuscript, and a month is a long time in blogland. So a week it is.

Happy Friday!


Week Seven: Rough draft completed!

You heard it here first.

For me, squeezing out that first rough draft is an ongoing struggle wherein I promise myself over and over that I'll go back and revise all the suck out of it, if I can just please oh please relax and write the damn thing.

And then, later, I'll find that I don't have anything too major to revise, because the rough draft wasn't actually so horrible after all.

Is it that the writerly skills I've honed over the years are all in my arsenal even when I'm giving myself permission to write poo (and so the poo does not stink quite so much as it might have, say, ten years ago), or it is more that the words on the page have a permanence or inevitability to them now that they're real, and to throw them out feels like wanton destruction?

Maybe both? Discuss.