Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lather Rinse Repeat

There are many ways to revise and the right one is the one that works for you. I'm going to let you in on my own secret for writing and revision. I'll show you how to do it. It's the right way for me but-and here's the disclaimer- it may not work for you. If it works, great! Use it, enjoy, many happy hours of tipping away at the keys to you. If it kind of works, take what you can use and modify. If it doesn't work, throw it out with the coffee grounds, make compost and sprinkle it over the tomatoes.

My secret is no secret at all. It's heisted straight from Anne LaMott's book "Bird by Bird". Which is, by the way, a terrific book on writing. If you don't have it on your writing shelf go out and buy it right away. What Anne LaMott says on the subject of revision is that there are three drafts. The down draft, where you write it all down. The updraft where you clean it all up. And the dental draft where you check the spelling, cross the t's and dot the i's. Here's how I use this method:

The down draft.  Get it all down.  I grab a notebook and a pen (you can grab a keyboard or a Smith-Corona or a  crayon if you prefer) and I start writing. I start with an idea and a sentence. I add another sentence and another sentence and so on until the essay, blog, scene for the novel, poem, is finished. I don't worry about spelling or tense or grammar. I try to get it all down as I see it play out in my head, as I hear the dialog or the stanza. I don't worry that its the worst crap that I, nay anyone on the planet, have ever written. I write fast so that I can outrace the critic in my head. My personal critic, Zelda, has an office somewhere in the left hemisphere of my cortex, and she loves to run after me with a blood red pen shouting things like "You can't say that!!! Where's your sense of propriety! You misspelled their again!! How can you be a writer if you misspell their all the time???" If I write fast enough she can't catch me and the shouting becomes distant enough that I can ignore it.

The updraft. When I've written the entire scene, poem, blog, essay I leave it be for a while. I go and work on something else: take a walk , check e-mail, read other people's blogs or some such. After another while, I go back to what I've written. I let Zelda put on her reading glasses. I try to be honest with myself about what soars off the page like a winged creature and what plummets like a wet rock. I kick out the extraneous and write notes on what can be expanded. With all that, I write it again. This time I use my keyboard and put it all into my trusty laptop. Then I take a nap, wash my hair, work on some something else for a while.

The dental draft. After another while, I go back to what I've written. I let Zelda grab the red pen. I note spelling errors and out of wack sentences. I fix anything that leaks or makes a funny poing sound.

Most of the time, I follow steps one through three again. And again. And again. At some point, when I've gone cross-eyed and can't see clearly anymore, I might get someone else to read it. And then I repeat the steps again as necessary. In the end, with some luck,  I have something that looks and sounds like a writer wrote it. I've written whole novels this way. You can too.  So try my secret method, if you like it you can keep it free of charge. If not, throw it out with the banana peels.
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