Posts tagged revising
Revision: Even Good Writers Write Badly.

 Thank God I'm not a brain surgeon. Do you have any idea how many times daily I have to call a do-over? My patients would not be happy (or alive, for that matter). But that is, as Cormier puts it, the beautiful thing about writing. You don't have to get it right the first time. Or the second. Or the third... You get my point.

After finishing chapter 20 in my current novel, Ourselves and Others, my momentum went dead. The fire flickered and blew out, spluttered into sparks as I tried to get it going again, then stubbornly stayed extinguished. My interest has been at level zero. I started brainstorming a new novel out of sheer boredom, and honestly I've been afraid I would move on from OaO and never come back. 

But finally, I recognized the problem: I didn't get it right the first time. The Chapter 20 I wrote is not the Chapter 20 the story needs. I've been fighting against the current of the plot when I should've been letting it pull me along. Now that my mind is oriented in the direction the story needs to go, I'm excited again. I want to work and get this tale told. The chapter 20 I wrote might end up as chapter 26 or 27, or it might not make it back at all. Either way, I'm calling a do-over.

Don't be afraid to go back a chapter, to cut and rewrite, or to eliminate altogether. Revise, revise, revise. You may be a good writer, but just because a good writer wrote something doesn't mean it's good. We all write junk sometimes—even the very best of us. So write a second draft, or a third, or a tenth. Do whatever you need to do to make your writing the best it can be. It's not brain surgery, after all. ;)

Today's Prompt: Write a short story from the perspective of the patient of an obviously clumsy neurosurgeon.

Happy Writing


The Pain and Pleasure of Revision (Quote of the Day)

What I want to know is: what kind of crack was this guy smoking when he said this?

Just kidding.

Seriously though, anyone who has ever written a novel—heck, anyone who's ever written a postcard—knows that revising and editing can be tedious. Hellacious. Torturous. You stare at a screen or a piece of paper until your eyes are about to fall out, trying to decide whether you've used the word "is" too much and debating with yourself about comma usage. It can be absolute misery.

But then you reach the last page. You have one final battle with a semicolon, and you're done. The original word count has been whittled down by about 10,000, and when you go back to the beginning and start reading—by golly—it doesn't sound like a soap opera on paper anymore. Suddenly, that mess you wrote is a neat mess; a structured mess; perhaps even not a mess at all. It's become something enjoyable to read, and as you enjoy it, you realize: I did this. This is something I created and perfected: the culmination of all my hard work. And it's good.

That's where the "exquisite pleasure" comes in—not necessarily in the act of dismantling and repiecing your writing, but in the knowledge that with every change, you're crafting a better story. When you revise, you know you can handle the pain, drudgery, and exhaustion it so often takes to create beauty. Writing makes you feel like an artist, but revising makes you feel like a professional.

Isn't it wonderful that writers can be both?

Today's Prompt: Create your own superhero. In this hero's world, crime is at an all time low. For over a month, he/she has had nothing to do except his/her day job—no people to save; no bad guys to fight; no need to put on the cape. Write about this dry spell and how your superhero handles it.

Happy Writing!


Love at First Draft--How to Keep the Spark Alive (Quote of the Day)

NicholasSparksQuote When I wrote the last page of my first novel, I cried. I mean, they weren't rolling-down-your-cheeks-and-landing-in-your-coffee tears, but there was definitely a shine in my eyes. There's an astounding sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing a book. All of a sudden, there you are, with a couple hundred pages that you eked out all by yourself--maybe over the course of months; maybe in a few frenzied days or weeks. For some of us, our stories have been in the works for years and are just now coming to a close. It's an emotional experience, no matter how long it's taken. And when it's done? Well that calls for tears--shouts for joy--happy dances--running out the door and kissing random people in the streets! It's finished; it's finished; hooray!

But notice that Sparks says, "the last page of the first draft." Does he know what he's talking about or what? Once we go through hours of editing and revising and scrapping and rewriting, the excitement tends to wane. Your once-cherished story starts to lose its loveliness after you've stared at the same pages for hours, borrowing from the thesaurus and taking out/putting back the same bewildering comma over and over again. Before you know it, your relationship with your novel reminds you of your grandparents' marriage. You know what I'm talking about. The ones who've been together forever, which is amazing, but... They buy each other socks for Christmas and pick spinach out of each others' teeth.

Oh, and they keep squabbling about whether that silly comma belongs or not.

I wish we could hold onto that "last-page-first-novel" feeling all the time. Wouldn't that be great? Well... I think we can at least get it back. I propose that this week, you do something special with your novel; reignite that old spark.

No, I don't mean take it out for a fancy dinner and champagne; what I mean is, leave it alone. Seriously. Take a vacation from editing. Put your novel in a box or a dark corner for a week. Maybe even two weeks. Then, when you start to miss it, go back to the first chapter and read. Just read. Resist the red pen and pretend like this book isn't something you wrote. My bet? You'll find yourself falling in love all over again.

Today's Prompt: Write a comedic story about your grandparents, or another elderly couple--real or fictional--who've been together "forever."

Happy Writing! KC

The Value of Revision (Quote of the Day)

In writing my first novel, I learned the value of "intelligent, even fastidious revision" as Oates puts it. The end of the first draft came in at a hefty  115,000 words, not all of which were necessary. Luckily for me, I was born with a very analytical, rational sort of mind (which isn't better than any other sort of mind, but does happen to be well-suited to editing). I'm generally able to read my writing and say, "this particular part is junk. It has to go" and then cut off pieces as mercilessly as if they were unsightly warts or over-long toenails.

And that's exactly what I did with my first novel. After three rounds of revision, I had whittled it down to a significantly sleeker 90,000 words. It was much better off, but the truth is that rational and analytical as I am, the cutting was hard to do. It was necessary to remove some parts I had grown extremely attached to. Although I loved certain phrases and scenes, I had to revise, revise, revise and put the good of the whole book above my emotional investment in a few lines and pages—and also above a certain level of pride. That's incredibly difficult. 

I can see what Joyce Carol Oates means by calling revision an art. But more than that, it's a discipline. It's a willingness to sacrifice, and it's a practice in humility. To write well is a gift. But to write well and still be able to admit, "this could be better?" That's how you turn a gift into a way of life.

Today's prompt: Revisit a story you wrote in the past and treat it like it belongs to someone else. How could it be better? Are there unnecessary parts? Questions that need to be answered? Print it out and mark it up with a red pen. Show no mercy. Now go make the changes and turn it into the best story it can be.

Happy Revising!