Revision, Or: Hell & Hot Pockets

Warning: I use an uncharacteristic amount of expletives in this post. I guess I feel quite strongly about revision.

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge, Day 19: Describe your revision process.

Haaaahahaha…“process”. That implies organization.

My revisioning is rather haphazard, actually. It’s kind of like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, and then throwing firecrackers and Hot Pockets at it. You still get a Hot Pocket out of the deal, but that by no means guarantees satisfaction. In fact, it’s more likely to do the opposite.

Here’s how my revision typically goes down:

I start writing something.

I labor over the first few sentences; with any luck I have a few paragraphs down before the self-editing starts.

A sentence from the first paragraph spontaneously combusts.

I rush to the scene to quell the offending flame. But before I have the first offense under tabs another six spring up.

I turn my attention to the new problems and, just when I think I’ve thrown an adequate amount of water on them, TURNS OUT THEY’RE GREMLINS AND THE BASTARDS MULTIPLY

Then,

THE IN-LAWS ARE VISITING THE TOILET PAPER’S OUT I BOUGHT GRAPEFRUIT INSTEAD OF ORANGES AND I SWEAR I JUST SAW A MALICIOUS CLOWN

It’s cool bro, don’t matter, just keep writing. Even Hemingway said that the first draft of everything is shit. It doesn’t have to be good now, just get some words on the page and fix things later. Whew, okay, I can do this.

A few sentences later:

TARANTULA FUNKEYS IN PARTY HATS

And on it goes, with sentences exploding and whole sections being torched in favor of a new draft, until somehow, miraculously and against all odds, I crawl out of a chapter or short story some weeks later with one shoe, shredded clothing, hairy legs and a week’s supply of Cheetos Puffs wrappers. Oh yes: and in this rare, victorious moment I am clutching a complete first draft. Which is, theoretically, where revisions should actually begin.

*Inhales*

In summation, my revision “process” is a total nightmare and in desperate need of work. I particularly need to get comfortable with writing poorly so that it doesn’t take forever to complete a single draft.

For first-time readers, I’d like you to assure you that I’m actually a very mild-mannered person. My regular posts do not contain gratuitous strands of capital letters, weird swears, Hot Pockets or Cheetos. I don’t even like Hot Pockets. Please don’t run away. Watch the funny man rip on Hot Pockets instead.

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Writing Challenge, Day 10: Of Swords & Excuses

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 10: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of the writing process?

At the risk of sounding egotistical, I love reading something I’ve written aloud! Finished or unfinished, if it’s been labored over it is satisfying. Giving my work voice really helps me engage with it, too, and is a ritual part of my editing process. When I worked in my university’s writing center we often told visitors that reading aloud is one of the very best ways to self-edit. It’s like checking a sword’s tang: if the words feel clumsy on your tongue or sound unbalanced in your ears, you’ve only to bring your piece back to the fire and wheel, to give them a little more time, to cut them here, direct them there, to recast and remake them until they sing on trial.

Reading aloud is a great way to catch common punctuation errors or poor sentence fluency, but it also does wonders for dialogue. Next time you need to test how realistic a conversation between characters sounds, just lend it your vocals! Better yet, read aloud to somebody else. We really edit ourselves when we have an audience and there’s that (sub)conscious pressure to perform well.

My least favorite part of the writing process is the amount of time it takes me to get to the read-aloud editing stage. This is, in part, because I’ve a natural talent for excuses. A weekend morning might start like this:

Ok! Sitting down at the desk. Got my tea, plenty of sunlight, and my short story before me. Today I will finish it!

But look! Facebook is open!

(Five minutes later)

I might as well check my email…

(Five minutes later)

Story story story…ok. Reading up to where I left off…oh yeah, that’s what happened. So in this next scene my protagonist needs to have an “ah-ha” moment, and to accomplish that… To accomplish that…I know! I’ll think about it while I start my laundry.

(Ten minutes later)

Yay! Laundry in. …What was I supposed to be thinking about? Oh, right right right.

(A couple sentences later)

What? Do I want to go shopping (watch a movie) (hang out and pretend to write) (run to the library) (bake cookies) (change guitar strings)? Uhhh, YEAH!

(Three hours later)

Well now, this won’t do! I’m going to have to make some more tea.

(Five minutes later)

Oh crap! Laundry!

The other part of the time equation is simply that I am also, by nature, a slow writer. As I become more aware of my own processes I’m trying to push myself to loosen up and write recklessly, on the premise that one can always edit later. Alas, I am a terrible nitpicker.

What are your favorite excuses?

Writing Challenge, Day 2: Turtle

30 Day Know Thyself Writing Challenge

Day 2: What is your biggest writing weakness, and what do you think you need to change to work on it?

My biggest weakness when it comes to writing is first draft perfectionism. I spend so much time trying to make the initial run coherent, flowing, and detailed that at the end of the day I’m lucky if I’ve hammered out an entire page! In theory this approach should be easy to change: all one must do is accept that the first draft of anything will be flawed, and write recklessly on in spite of that. In practice it takes deadlines. Word count goals, and deadlines. Those are the only things that seem to push me past turtle speed!

Turtle, turtle!

At the same time, I also wonder whether there might be some merit in my natural slow method. My drama professor once said that there are two kinds of writers: the meticulous and the reckless. The reckless are “word vomiters,” she said; first they get it all out and then they clean it all up. For them the hard work is in the revision. The meticulous, on the other hand, revise as they go. It takes a long time to finish anything, but by the time the first draft is out it will be near completion and need very little fine-tuning. Does a word vomiter spend as much time cleaning up their words as I do coughing up mine?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. When in doubt I like to remember the following:

“It’s easier to edit crap than air.”