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Posts Tagged ‘revising’

Thursday Morning

It is like standing looking at the water and being afraid to jump. But this story is building up inside of me and wants to be written. I imagine this will be more like a belly flop than a graceful dive, but the important part is hitting the water … right?

I wrote this draft pretty quickly, and it is very raw, but there is something powerful for me–here, in the last two or three pages: what is there leaves me breathless. My job, my goal, is to let others see and feel what I see and feel.

I have some idea of what I have to do with this story. I’m not entirely sure how to do it, and I’m afraid of breaking it open so it can be remade. But here we go.

New story later this afternoon.

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Does anyone know how to spell “workshopping?” It seems to me that 1) this needs to be a word, since “workshop” is used as a verb all the time, at least in MFA programs, at least by me; and 2) there is no other logical way to spell it. Is there? But it doesn’t matter where I type it–Word, Open Office, Firefox–it always gets the squiggly red line.

Anyway. I’m well into the spring semester at this point, and the work is piling up–though nothing “big” has been due yet. Still feel like I’m shaking off “break mode.”

I have been revising a short story I wrote last semester, and I am stuck. (Stuck, actually, at the same place I last blogged about.) So I have been going through the feedback I got from my workshop classmates, their notes in hand and Open Office document open. Ultimately, these notes don’t amount to big changes (at least not so far). Some feedback I dismiss entirely, because it is clear the reader didn’t “get” my story … whether because of different aesthetic tastes, or for other reasons. And that is an important part of workshop: knowing what to listen to, and what to forget. Any workshop ought to help a writer accomplish their aims–perhaps find out what those aims are. Advice that ignores or misses that is not of any use whatsoever. (As good old Flannery would say, “In short, I am amenable to criticism but only within the sphere of what I am trying to do; I will not be persuaded to do otherwise.”)

But even feedback from those who don’t appreciate your story–who, when they offer advice, are trying to make it into something else entirely–gives you another angle at which to view your story, things to consider you wouldn’t otherwise see. And I love reading these letters Fiona made us write each other, which some people wrote mostly as critiques but others just as reactions. After all, stories are written to be read. And they become different stories for different readers. That is the beauty of it; the control and complete loss of control a writer has over her own words. I like hearing how people took it, even if they didn’t get it; even if they hated it. (Yes, one person DID tell me she hated it.)

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So we are blogging as part of my fiction workshop this semester with Cathy Day! Possibly some of those posts will make it over here.

I’m not sure yet how far this blog will venture away from “matters more bookish than not,” but I am willing to let it venture other thoughtful places.

I just finished Monkeys by Susan Minot. A good book. I started it yesterday, and finished it this afternoon, much to the detriment of my to-do list. It’s one of those books where there’s more than what you take in on a first read, even if you’re trying to be a perceptive reader. The prose is very spare, which works beautifully, as she is writing about intense emotions. I think I will have to come back to this one again.

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I have spent the past hour revising, more or less. (Actually, I’ve had the document open for an hour and forty-five minutes; but there is twitter, and gmail, and other things that unfortunately reside on the same computer as my stories.)

Revising is a big deal in the class I teach. What I tell my students around midterm, when their first major revision is due, is that revision, in the case of our Seminar in Composition course, does not mean editing. It doesn’t mean tinkering with punctuation and fixing grammatical errors, polishing up an already finished product. It means to re-see their essays, to treat them like a stage in a process which they are now continuing.

Despite this often repeated reminder, last semester I got a few essays that I couldn’t distinguish from the originals except by holding them side by side and comparing them line by line. I imagine the same thing will happen this semester. As a teacher, it is pretty frustrating. As a writer, I understand where they’re coming from.

The fact is, I’m not sure I even know how to revise. I’m pretty good at editing, and always have been–making prose clearer, more concise or more developed, fixing the sound of sentences.

But the past few days I’ve been working on a short story I wrote in the fall, and it’s been slow going. Yes, I have been revising for (more or less) the past hour and a half. But what is the fruit of that hour and a half? Well, first there’s the italicized three paragraphs I added two days ago. There I did some editing on the sentence level; one line added; the last two paragraphs deleted (and saved in a separate word document, because I’m not sure I want to get rid of them yet). Three lines added elsewhere; a very clunky line added with a bold note to self it needs to be fixed.

All of this is struggling towards developing the layers this story possesses, but in an underdeveloped way. My attempts at fleshing them out feel less than subtle. It does not feel like I’ve done an hour’s worth of writing; and it is a bit frustrating that half of that writing was the deletion of what I wrote last time.

I suppose that’s the nature of the craft, and the only way to learn is by doing. I find I can’t go at it day after day; in order to (re)see clearly, I need to set the story aside long enough to come back and find it fresh–but not so long that it slips away from me and we need to get reacquainted. Right now it is something of an ungraceful dance.

When I draft, I follow my nose. When I revise, I try to see what I’ve done and make it better. What I need to learn is how to see clearly.

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