Monday, February 25, 2008


I'm finally making headway on my Bees story (renamed from Queen to Beekeeping). This one has been a toughie for me. I don't know if it's because I'm juggling a bunch of fairly emotional stuff in my regular (ie, not fictional) life or if I'm getting a little burnt out, or if it was just a tough nut to crack.

B asked me how one goes about revising, saying something along the lines of, "Everyone says you have to allow yourself to write a shitty first draft. But then what? Anyone can write crap." It made me realize that first of all I hadn't given revising it's due before this semester--both in terms of how hard it is and in terms of how important it is. And second of all, I hadn't given much thought to the steps I'm going through in revision. Here's some of what I have learned about revision. Please add your own thoughts in comments--I'd love to learn more from you!

1. The work must sit for weeks or months between first draft and second. Before each residency, I tried to revise stories that I worked on in the previous semester. But I didn't really revise them. I tweaked them, making scenes more visual, characters clearer, dialogue better. But I didn't re-envision them. For me at least, I need a few weeks or months to be removed enough from the story to see what needs to be re-envisioned.

2. I need to freewrite about some questions around the story:

"What does the character learn in the story?"

"What are the main themes of the story?"

"What is the narrative drive of the story?"

(ie, What makes the reader be compelled to read on?)

I think freewriting is important here--not just thinking about these questions or trying to answer them as you type in the story file. I need to use a journal for this step because getting away from the story file allows me a freedom I don't feel when the story is in front of. On the pages of my journal, I feel freeer to try theories out, to test things, than I do in the Word document of the story. (I use a paper and pen journal for this step, but I imagine blogging or even typing in a clean Word doc would work.)

3. I need to open a fresh Word doc and begin revising by cutting and pasting a paragraph or two from the original draft into that fresh document. Something about this step allows me to feel freer to move things around, delete things (by not copying them into the new doc), and write completely new material. This is clearly all psychological, but it works for me.

After all of this, I have a story that barely resembles my first, shitty draft. It generally starts and end in a completely different place, the focus of the story has shifted, some of the characters didn't make the cut, and some others have been added in. My next step will be revising at the sentence/word level--reading the piece aloud to make changes concerning rhythm and word choice. (I haven't gotten to that point on any of my stories yet. Yikes!)

Now, tell me about your revision process! Do you do anything similar to this? What isn't on my list that would have to be on yours?

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Becca said...

First, I can't tell you how much I appreciate these tips. I'm great with the shitty first drafts, but I have no idea where to start with revision.

You've given me some really good ideas, and I also like the concept of re-envisioning, rather than just "tweaking," which is about all I've been able to do in my revision efforts so far.

I wish I had some insights to add, but I'm such a neophyte in this process, I can only be grateful for your advice :)

Writer bug said...

Thanks Becca! I'm glad the tips helped!