Friday, March 03, 2017

More on Revision

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” - Kelly Barnhill

As I drove home from a recent evening run I'd done with my training partners, I noticed the body sensations I associate with a "good" run. My mood had lifted. My arms and legs tingled. My throat felt open and a warmth radiated across my whole body. Since I'm always writing even when I'm not writing, it dawned on me that I'm eleven (or more) drafts into a book about running (Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two) and hadn't described how this post-run glow feels physically. The next morning, adding this became my first task.

While I searched (and found) a spot to best place this experience, I discovered I had overused "feel" and "felt," words which don't capture the sensations I tried to convey. So I searched for "feel" or "felt" and when appropriate, dove deeper for more detail. As a result, "I felt sad" became "I couldn't swallow. My throat closed. The sun shone but everything still looked gloomy." It goes back to the old adage "Show, don't tell." Natalie Goldberg instructed us to "be specific."

When I posted about this revision process on my Facebook author page, a writer commented that she searched for "could" and replaced it with more active language. Back to the book I went and did the same. "I could see" became "I saw." "I could hear" became "I heard." Simple, but profound changes.

As I revised for "could," I noticed "very" and "really" were often unnecessary. So I searched for those as well and made more easy changes. With each edit, the writing grew more vivid and once I finished, the book had shrunk by hundreds of words.

I share this to show my revision process: messy, nonlinear, and often dependent on cues from others. I used to think I was flawed because my drafts require these kinds of changes. I also chided myself for being unable to revise from point A to point B to point C. Now I know that's just not how my brain works. The more I talk to other writers, the more I learn I'm not alone. We each must find our own way. I'm always eager to hear how others approach their work and often try to implement other artists' strategies as a way to ease my path, but I no longer judge myself for being unable to do it the way someone else does. Accepting my quirky ways, I continue my circuitous process.

How would you describe your revision methods? I'd love to hear what works for you.

2 comments:

B. WHITTINGTON said...

I'm so with you on this revising phase. AND it is a phase. One in which I go in and out of. I've made so many of my passive sentences active by doing what you are. It's worth it in the end but can make the process feel never ending!!!
Always enjoy your posts and so appreciate you sharing your experience with your readers.
Much success to you. Barb

Barbara A. Whittington, author
Vada Faith
Ezra and Other Stories
Dear Anne: Love Letters from Nam
Coming soon: Missing: Sweet Baby James

Sea Change said...

Hi Nita!

Even from the first really rough drafts, I make a print copy, because for some reason it's much easier for me to see the problems in print than on the screen. So then I mark up that copy with edits, and type up another draft. Print that, see the errors, and do the next draft and so on. I may go through some fifteen to twenty revision drafts this way. I'm talking about pieces that are fairly short. Not sure how I would handle a full-length work. Probably the same way. I realize this uses quite a lot of paper, but I just don't catch the problems when I only work on screen.
Another very helpful trick is to read the work aloud, because the ear is more accurate than the eye when it comes to the flow of things. :-)
Best,
Shelagh