Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hand Crafted, Artisanal Revisions

I’ve been spending this month revising. I have a few unfinished projects in the queue, all of them at various stages. As I move these stories through my ever-evolving process and out the door I’m experimenting with different approaches and methods. One thing that hasn’t changed is my need to see my work on paper.

I split my time pretty evenly between working on screen and by hand. I do enjoy writing with pen on paper and find that it accesses a slightly different thought process. It takes longer to write than to type, and that constraint forces my brain to use different strategies when working through the narrative of a first draft.

Typing in a hand-written first draft, changing it as I go, is an almost effortless way to revise. Once a story is typed in, I work on screen until I come to a point where I hit a kind of ceiling. I can see it needs improving, but electronically scrolling back and forth through the pages no longer gives me any new insight.

So, I print it out and take up a pen, or more usually, a pencil and two or three different colored pens, spread the whole thing out and start scribbling. Sometimes I write margin notes as if I were a slush reader. General notes like, “awkward sentence” or “pick up the pace here.” On another pass I’ll go through and rework passages, writing new material between the lines. I have large format sticky notes for when I need to add passages. I draw arrows and note page numbers where I need to move chunks of text around.

When I’ve filled up nearly all the white space on the printed copy, I enter in all the changes, doing even more revising on the fly as I go through. As you can see above, these pages are dense and it can take some time to get through them.

Next I get some eyes on it. If I’ve taken it to my in person critique group I have a new pile of paper and passel of comments to process. If it’s been critiqued online I’ll work onscreen.

After assessing and entering those comments in a final revision, it’s time for a last read through for grammar and style. This is a read aloud, which I do on screen and, ideally, in one sitting.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing these past few weeks. Of course there is no right way. Many roads can lead to the same destination. For example, check out Jake Kerr’s excellent piece about revision here.

On screen or on the page, keep experimenting until you find your best way to tear down your draft and rebuild it into something better.

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