My mother collected cookbooks. From the Better Homes and Gardens classic to The Joy of Cooking to Southern Living, she loved browsing recipes. Me, I love poring over books about writing. Every title offers new tidbits that improve my craft (“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”–King), motivate me (“Bird by bird, Buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”–Lamott), or just let me revel in the deliciousness of words (“The reader will usually find in the sentence some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation.”–White).
That is, it’s easy if you’re anal about detail, like me. [I just checked, and “like me” is correct, although if I were being formal I might have written, “If you are as anal about detail as I am.” Then again, I’d probably have to ditch “anal”…] If you have ADHD or dyslexia like some members of my family, you might prefer sticking pins in your eyes to proofreading. [I am in a mood today! Maybe I should write all my posts in the afternoon early in the week, rather than cramming them at the last minute late at night!]
So now you’re a pro at revision (step 1 in the revision process, that is). From my June 22 post, Revising Writing is Like Home Renovation, you know there are three steps in the writing revision process: Revise, Edit, Proofread. On July 20, we examined Step 1: Revise. This week, we tackle Step 2: Editing.
I’ve been using the house renovation analogy to illustrate the revision process. Step 1 in the house reno process meant making major structural changes. Step 2 involves doing the interior finishing work. In writing, Step 1: Revise meant assessing content and meaning—making sure you said what you meant to say. Step 2: Edit involves language issues in sentences and paragraphs—making sure you said what you meant to say the way you intended to (and should) say it.
I apologize for being AWOL for a few weeks. Work has been extra busy and my daughter had a baby. I had to decide: blog? baby? Hmmm. Guess who won? Sweet little Payton Annabelle! But as Arnold Schwarzenegger said in The Terminator, “I’m back!” Of course, if Payton starts smiling…
We’re Still Revising
I want to explain the parts of revision in more depth. Perhaps you’ll recall its three steps: Revise, Edit, Proofread. Today we’ll tear down the walls and expose step 1.
It is confusing that both the process itself and its first step have the same name, but English has many worse conundrums, like why enough, through, plough, dough, and cough all pronounce ough differently, and why we don’t have a pronoun for hisorher. You know what I mean—for those instances in which people say, “An individual should always do their best work.” Drives me crazy. We just have to get over it.
Let’s assume you accept my position from last week’s post that writers must revise their work. Exactly how do you make your shitty first draft better?
Many writers wish for a magic wand to wave over the pages or the keyboard. Sorry, but Harry Potter has moved on to bigger and better projects. I can’t even give you a single, quick-’n’-dirty operation that will do the trick. Because revision isn’t something you do when you finish writing. Revision is really another stage of writing, itself, and can’t be rushed or superseded—or as we saw last week, skipped.
Writing is Revision
Writing isn’t simply the act of spewing ideas from your brain and printing them onto paper. It is the art of choosing just the right words and arranging them into the most appropriate syntaxes and rhythms, and then organizing those ideas into just the right structure to accomplish your purpose and connect with and move your reader. Writing is revision.
“The first draft of anything is shit.” Attributed to Ernest Hemingway, these words have inspired admiring riffs by other writers. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, wrote, “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” Caleb Ross, author of Stranger Will, advised writers to “write your novel when you feel like shit; edit when you feel great.”