Thursday, April 26, 2012

Better the Second Time Around: Week 2

Overcoming roadblocks:

Revision is hard.  It is more than proofreading.  It is RE-vision--seeing again.

  1. So first, ask yourself:  Do you want to go through revision? 
    It's okay to answer no.  Sometimes all you want is to get something down.  Something is always better than nothing.  If this is your goal, then it's still a great goal and worth being happy about.  However, do take the time to proofread (http://www.grammarbook.com/, the Purdue OWL grammar and punctuation, or Strunk & White's The Elements of Style will all help you), put down names and dates, and include pictures if you have them.  Others may not be able to do so.
  2. Who is your audience?
    Who are you writing for?  I am mainly giving advice on how to be clear and how to express your feelings and beliefs in your writing, but when we critique as a group, we certainly may come at it from difficult angles.  Make sure you know who your audience is and angle your revisions that way. 

    When it comes to memoir, for example, I write three kinds of stories.  (1) I write about my kids a lot, but it's often for myself--for understanding what is going on with them, with me, with family dynamics.  What is important for that kind of writing is details--what I did, what the kids did--then why I did what I did, what I think now, what I might have missed, what the kids said they felt, how they reacted, or how I think they might have felt.  It doesn't matter what anybody else thinks of it but the kids' therapists.  (2) I also write about my relationship with my mother-in-law.  These stories are for open reading, and it very much matters what others think of it.  I care a lot about being fair in cultural difference, across generations, and across the in-law lines.  When somebody comments about these items, I take it into consideration.  (3) Finally, I write stories about my own childhood memories.  Many of this are strictly for laughs and nostalgia.  For these stories, I care mainly about dramatizing (i.e., showing) the moments without too much commentary and about writing with some care for living participants.  I care what people have to say with regard to these aspects of the story.
  3. How much do you want to change?This is a choice you have to make.  It is your story.  If you don't want to change it, that's fine.  If you do, then you may want to follow the steps below.
So if you've decided that you want to revise, what do you need to do?

  1. Allow yourself time.  Even the best critiques can be painful, and even if the critique is not, sometimes you are facing memories themselves that are painful.  Be compassionate with yourself.  You are allowed to be hurt, but don't let the hurt keep you from the revision.
  2. Try to be more specific.  For me at least, a revision generally means drawing out the moments and details.  Sometimes it takes time.  Sometimes it takes focus.  Most of the time it takes more work and more words and a lot of attention to details.  Who said what, when, how, why, where?  How did it look, smell, taste, feel?  How did I discern what I know--through movement, music, strategy, etc.?  Do not edit yourself here.  Put it all out there.
  3. Cut (and save it somewhere else).  Remember how I just said, "Do not edit yourself?"  Well, now it's time to edit yourself.  After you have it all there, you might not need some of it.  Don't worry about cutting.  It really does make it better.  (But save it in another file where you can access it later if you need it.)
  4. Let it sit.  After you've done what you can do, put it away and get it out later.  You'd be amazed what you see and, sometimes, how easy it is to fix.
Best wishes!

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