Thoughts on Craft 5

Well, readers…. The manuscript Gods of IMAGO has officially been sent to the editor and will enter the editorial process. And this leads me to another craft talk.

At the beginning of each writing class (fiction, screenwriting, composition) I always discuss the writing process. I will be brief here, so perhaps a deep dive into each in another post.

All writers (if it is a grocery list or a novel; a text message or a term essay) enter the writing process when they write. It consists of the Imaginative Rehearsal Stage, the Drafting Stage, and the Revision Stage. In today’s craft talk, I want to focus on the last one: Revision.

Revision is “re-seeing” what one has written. Why would someone revise anything? Didn’t the Romantics teach us the great lesson that “all good [writing] is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings!” Yes, they did, and by doing so absolutely became frauds and ruined many a young writer. Why do I say this? Because every one of the Romantics who preached that “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” as good art revised all the time. The father of that statement, William Wordsworth, revised his work throughout his entire life. We know this because we have the revisions! For some reason, novice writers have glommed onto the concept of first draft/best draft to their absolute ruin!

As all publishing writers know, revision is an essential part of writing. We have all experienced the fundamental issue I call: the first draft autocorrect issue. What pray tell is that? When we write our drafts, we are so trapped by our imaginations that we are prevented from actually reading the words side-by-side on a page – as they move from left to right. Every time we read our drafts, our imagination autocorrects every mistake. We literally cannot see them! Just take a moment and remember those times you revised, re-read your own work and still missed issues on the page – glaring issues, problems that made you look silly. This is why the revision (the re-seeing) of our work is so important. We cannot see the words on the page, and therefore, we cannot revise our own work in the moment of drafting. So what do we do?

There are two ways to circumvent the imagination/autocorrect issue as a writer: time and other readers. The poet Donald Hall once told a few of us while having lunch, “I write a poem a day and put them in a drawer. I go back a year from the composition date and then read it. I need to read it when it doesn’t know I’m looking at it.” He may or may not have actually done this, but is it not a wonderful statement. You see, if we can separate ourselves from a piece of writing – say a month or so – we change from writer to reader of words on a page. Our imagination no longer controls what we want to say… it is simply the code before us. And the same is true with outside readers. Other readers are not trapped by our imaginations. They are only trapped by the words on the page. Those words either work or do not. We need feedback! It is our saving grace before the manuscript, poem, lyric, etc… gets out into the terrifying world of pure readers – those who can only and will ever be trapped with the words on our pages.

Think of it this way. If you were writing the most important email of your life to another, with one chance to get it right/wrong, and the stakes were the highest they could possibly be… wouldn’t you desperately want another reader’s opinion? Someone to tell you if the words worked or not?

So, I end where I began. Well, readers…. The manuscript Gods of IMAGO has officially been sent to the editor and will enter the editorial process. And I can’t wait to get feedback!


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