Writing is Revising

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One of my teachers always said that the revision process required an entirely different part of the brain. When it comes to revision, she said, you have to think more like a scientist, like a problem solver. I posted about “solving the puzzle” not too long ago… the idea that we sometimes have to put aside our artist’s hat and switch it for our critic’s hat. Revision can be a much more intellectual process, while the creation part, the getting it down is more artistic and magical and we don’t always stop to think, analyze, and develop.

I’m always thinking about revision, always begging people to fess up and enlighten me on their process. I mentioned before a professor who looked at me wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, when I asked him about his process. Why, I don’t know, I don’t know at all, he said. He really didn’t know how he did it, he just did it. Let me think about it, he said.

Thankfully, I recently came across author Laurie Halse Anderson’s website. She is the author of Speak, Wintergirls, and many other titles. Her live journal is chock full of revision tips. Whether or not these will work for me remains to be seen, but I am always open to new suggestions, new tricks, new advice. Here are some of Laurie’s revision tips that I’ll be trying:

1.Spend a week away from your draft. Anderson says: “When you finish a first draft, don't look at it for at least a week. Clean up your desk and catch up on your reading. Do some journaling about what you thought the story was at the beginning of the draft and how it changed when you were writing. Make a list of those pesky little thoughts that are bugging you about places where your characters might not be consistent or major plot issues. Do this without rereading your pages!”

2.See the Scene. “Read each scene and highlight each mention of a sense other than sight. Any scenes that only have visual details need to be revised to sneak in one or more of the other senses. If you are having a hard time with this, picture the scene in your mind. Now imagine you are the character, and close your (the character's eyes) what other sensory information is still available?”

3.Pare down Dialogue. Anderson offers some great tips for revising dialogue when it seems to be running a little too long. She asserts that more action, more verbs are needed. She recommends doing this:

·Choose a dialogue heavy scene

·Brainstorm about what kinds of actions the characters might be doing while they are having this conversation. F. ex., mom and son arguing at the grocery store about if he can borrow the car Friday night. Potential actions: picking out groceries (be specific!), checking labels, returning groceries to shelf (possibility for character development! Does this character go to the trouble of returning item where it belongs or not?), smelling squeezing, poking. More character development: are items neatly stacked in cart, or thrown in?

·Inset actions into dialogue

·See where you can trim dialog by allowing characters' actions to speak louder than their words.

4.Attempt a POV change. If you aren’t sure you’re writing from the best POV, Anderson suggests this tip: “Take your favorite chapter and rewrite from a different POV; shift from third to first, or first to third, or if you are bold and way smarter than me, experiment with the second person POV. Or.... (and.....) fool around with the tense structure. If your story is told in present tense, rewrite that favorite chapter in past tense. If you've written the whole thing in past tense, try out that chapter in present tense. What's the point of all this mucking around? It helps you see your characters and the Story from a slightly altered perspective.”

5.Say Goodbye to Adverbs. “Evaluate every adverb in your story. Can any of them be removed by using a stronger verb? Make it so.”

Check out Laurie’s Live Journal for even more revision tips…oh, and you have to watch this great video about the construction of her “room of her own,” her very new, beautiful writing space. We all wish for a space as wonderful as this someday!

The key to turning out good stuff is rewriting.The key to grinding it out is consistency.”

-Forrest McDonald

photo credit: LSH

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