THE TRUTH ABOUT REVISING

Dog pissing on a computer.
Dog pissing on a computer.

You may find in working with a mirror that a much better one comes along to take its place or that something that is intellectually very clever, becomes strained in its application.  Remember this is a technique to make storytelling more interesting, not more difficult.  The great thing is that like story ideas and scenes, mirrors are everywhere in real life.  It’s not a matter of being inventive, its’s a matter of opening you eyes to what is already there.

           

What about revisions?  First of all, get most of your first draft done before you begin.  I like rewriting but find it often sidetracks my energy.  Move forward, not backward.  Here are two other observations about revising work.  I was in a book store looking at William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, skimming over sections titled, “Simplicity,” “Style,” “Usage,” when I happened to turn to pages 10 and 11.  These were reproductions of a typed manuscript heavily crossed out, with arrows going everywhere, like the roughest of first drafts.  They were the fifth draft of pages 8 and 9.  Why is it as writers, when we read someone else’s work we think the words came to them as gracefully and easily as the finished version we read?  We know better, but isn’t this the disappointment we feel in reading our original draft–it seemed so good when we were writing it and now it will take so much effort to really make it that way.  Well, ignorance is bliss.  Enjoy it.  Move forward before you realize all the work in rewriting it will eventually entail.  Once this subject has taken possession of you, you will do whatever it takes to communicate it precisely, anyway.

           

A funny incident happened to me years ago.  I was typing some examples while at work during the afternoon for an evening class I was teaching.  I put a copy of one of these on the desk of a copy writer who worked for me.  She and I had often discussed writing and I thought she would enjoy this piece.  The next day, I found the two pages on my desk crawling with corrections.  On a note she said she knew I was using this in my class and I might want to tighten it up so that it read better.  The comments included: “vague,” “not a sentence,” “doesn’t ring true,” “usage,” “seems strained,” “beware of adjectives, describing–telling the reader is not as strong as helping the reader to experience,” “not precise, but a good start!”

           

I broke into laughter.  The comments were true enough and are ones I would put on other people’s manuscripts, but this was the first page of D.H. Lawrence’s short story masterpiece, The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.  Not only is it one of the great short stories of all time, but this opening part in which we see a village landscape from the point of view of a doctor on the opposite hillside, is a perfect mirror for his alienation from the people of the village and a foreshadowing of his stifling involvement with the woman, Mabel Pervin (who is making her way to the pond below to kill herself).  Was there room for improvement in the writing?  Who knows.  But this I am sure of.  Her nit-picking comments were like a piece of gravel next to Mount Rushmore.  That’s the power of using the right mirror.

           

What about revisions?  First of all, get most of your first draft done before you begin.  I like rewriting but find it too often sidetracks my energy.  Move foreword, not backward.  But, I have two other brief observations to make about revising your work.

 

I was in a book store looking at William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, skimming over sections titled, “Simplicity,” “Style,” “Usage” when I happened to turn to page 10 and 11.  These were reproductions of a typed manuscript heavily crossed out, with arrows going everywhere, like the roughest of first drafts.  They were actually the fifth draft of pages 8 and 9.  Why is it as writers, when we read someone else’s work we think the works came to them as gracefully and easily as they are when we read them?  We know better, but isn’t this the disappointment we feel in reading our original draft–it seemed so good when we were writing it and now it seems to take so much effort to really make it that way.  Well, I say ignorance is bliss, and enjoy it to move forward before realizing all the eventual work in rewriting it entails.  Once this subject has taken possession of you, you will do anything to make sure you get it right.

           

My second observation stems from a funny incident that happened to me years ago.  I was teaching an evening class, and typing out some examples while at work during the afternoon.  I put a copy of one of them on the desk of a copy writer who worked for me.  She and I had often discussed writing and I thought she would enjoy it.  The next day, I found the two pages on my desk crawling with corrections.  On a note she said she knew I was using this in my class and I might want to tighten it up so that it read better.  The comments included: “vague,” “not a sentence,” “doesn’t ring true,” “usage,” “seems strained,” “beware of adjectives, describing–telling the reader is not as strong as helping the reader to experience (to discover),” “not precise enough, if you get my drift, but a good start!”

           

I howled with laughter.  The comments were true enough and are ones I would put on your manuscripts if I had them in front of me, but this was the first page of D.H. Lawrence’s short story masterpiece, “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter”.  Not only is it one of the great short stories of all time, but this opening part in which we see a village landscape from the point of view of a doctor on the opposite hillside is a perfect mirror for his alienation from the people of the village and foreshadowing of his stifling involvement with the woman, Mabel Pervin, who is making her way to the pond below to kill herself.  Was there room for improvement in the writing?  Who knows.  But this I am sure of.  This copywriter’s nit-picking comments were like a piece of gravel next to Mount Rushmore.  That is the relative power of the right mirror.


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