Words, Revision, And Writing Beyond

Revision is a part of writing…do not be afraid to experiment with what you have written…This is a common occurrence in all writing, and among the best writers.  -The Elements of Style

As we’ve read and re-read the submitted works for our impending anthology, I’ve thought a lot about what young writers know (or often don’t know) about revision. Even the mention of the word revision, or a suggestion that writing needs to change often brings about resistance, followed by a sigh and a sense of frustration. It is in that moment, that conversation with another writer, that I can emphasis the importance of revision. This is not always easy to hear, that revision is advisable, necessary. I thought about what I’ve learned from other writers and what I try to tell myself…

Since revision is such a big topic, let’s start with words. How do you know when it is time to let go, when a word is not doing all that it can do, should do? How do you know when you should craft tightly or let your lines stretch out a bit?

In thinking about prose, crafting sentences takes discipline, it takes time, patience. But in that first draft the tidying of every single word can lead to over writing. Sure, diction matters in prose but it is important to keep a wide eye on progressing through the larger work (a paper, book, essay, short story, article, etc.). In prose, beware of getting stuck in a sentence, on a word that isn’t working (for now). Use words, sentences, as placeholders while you draw the skeleton of your piece. Some of those beautifully written passages will work, where others will need to go. That is the grace of revision. As I’ve said, and have to remind myself,  “don’t fall in love,” with your early drafted lines; some of them are just passing by.

However, I have a different sensibility in poetry. I would argue it’s not always about numbers unless you’re counting syllables. Each word matters but in a poem, it is not how many words you can make stick to the page, it is about what those words are doing for your poem, what they sound like, what they convey. Trim the words you don’t need and if you’re not sure what words you don’t need, read work by other writers, read your own work again and again. Consider what words are doing the heavy lifting—keep those first—and even they might not make it beyond revision.

To remind a another writer is to remind myself that writing is a process and that it takes tools, time, and discipline. To write more and get beyond settling on a string of lovely sentences is to look out beyond those sentences, that page or passage you love, and know (and trust) there is more to come. And for that, we must keep writing.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Writing

6 Comments on “Words, Revision, And Writing Beyond”

  1. Gwen Stephens
    February 28, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Interesting, Dionne, I have a post on revision coming up in March. My theme centers on over-revising, which I’ve been guilty of. When it comes to revisions, my critique partners are my saving grace. They always point out what’s not working or what’s unclear. Another key factor for me is time. Putting the piece away for a while and returning to it with fresh eyes.

    • February 28, 2014 at 7:55 am #

      Time is definitely good favor (unless you have a deadline) when it comes to revision. As you’ve said, putting a piece away for a while is one way to relax about it all, pick it up later with a new perspective, more life experience, interesting new words.

      I do think many struggle to temper revision as we want our writing to be “just right” or to at least work. Sometimes I just have to let go or else I will craft a piece to death (literally). Sometimes a little reckless and loose does a piece of writing good.

      I like how you have “critique partners”. I wrote a piece last spring (I think) about the importance of community when we’re writing. The work can be so isolating that having a community to bounce ideas off of is refreshing. I love writing workshops!

      Look forward to your piece in March.

      • Gwen Stephens
        February 28, 2014 at 8:00 am #

        Thanks, Dionne. Have a good weekend – hopefully that awful ice storm in the forecast will miss you.

      • February 28, 2014 at 8:04 am #

        You too Gwen, stay warm. I think we may both get hit by this impending storm. *sigh*

  2. February 27, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    Reblogged this on thestudyhallbooks and commented:
    Thank you for an incredible post. So many thoughts are parading in my mind but I will not spoil the excitement of reading your post with a clutter of my own words!

    • February 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm #

      Well, thank you. I’m glad when we can discuss process while we are all working through our writing. After you read this and think about it further, I’d love to hear what you’re thinking about!

Have a comment or reply?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: