Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wading Through Revisions

I’m not sure what I’ve got with my latest draft.

Is it a real story or nothing more than two hundred pages of soggy swamp?

Maybe it’s a little of both.

Some passages read beautifully while others wander off into mangrove thickets.

I’ve reached the point where I’m making notes to re-title chapters, hoping to focus on the theme of each chapter more strongly.

And, of course, I’m discovering that I'll need to revise many passages extensively in order to uncover themes which aren’t apparent on a first reading.

It’s that stage where–nearly halfway through–I can’t see past the thick branches and Spanish moss dangling in front of my face or the muddy water swirling around my feet.

But that’s ok.

This is where I’m supposed to be right now.

And, looking over my shoulder (while swatting mosquitoes), I can glimpse how far I’ve come since writing the initial draft by hand, then typing that draft into the computer, then revising the draft on the computer again... and again.

Only a week ago I printed out another draft to review and made notes by hand before re-typing the draft into the computer and doing another revision.

It's interesting how this process of back-and-forth--writing a draft by hand, typing it into the computer, re-reading a hard copy of the draft and revising it by hand, then keyboarding the changes into the computer--may seem like unnecessary drudgery at times.

But this process offers insights into the sentences and structure (and themes) of the draft that I might overlook if I revise the draft exclusively on the computer.

That’s not to say I won’t revise on the computer (yet again!) after this draft is done.

But right now it’s important to wade through the manuscript this way, especially when I take the time to slow down and read it with a pen in my hand.

The manuscript feels different when I hold it in my hands.

It's not yet a book, but, holding the pages in my hands, I can sense what it might become.

And on days when I lose my way in the mangrove thicket, it’s that feeling which sustains me.

What about you–how do you wade through the muddy water of revisions? Do you prefer revising on a computer or by hand? Do you go back and forth between the two? What’s the difference? And what do you gain by doing revisions one way rather than another?

Let us know when you get a chance.

For more on revising by hand versus computers, visit:


Jack said...

Interesting to see how each writer approaches the process of revision. I'd gotten into the habit of trying to do all my revision on the computer, but I've noticed that, particularly with short stories, when I finally print it out to send off there are always passages just crying out to be revised. It just looks and feels different holding it in your hand. I even think the cognitive process works differently. There's probably a bit of laziness associated with writing on screen, too. You're always figuring you can go back and fix anything crude later; but, you sometimes don't.

Enough already. I'm going to use recycled paper so I don't feel so bad about the printouts.

laurasalas said...

I do virtually all of my writing and revising on my laptop.

I do like to print out a draft and mark it by hand, but I don't actually make major changes by hand (things like adding whole scenes or sections)--I just make a note that I need to do them.

I type SO much faster than I write, that writing by hand is often frustrating for me. Sometimes I'll work on poetry mss by hand because they're so short and portable. But prose--pretty much strictly on computer.

(I do recycle my own paper, and printing out drafts, when I do it, usually gets done on the back side of paper I've already printed on once.)

Penny said...

Interesting. In fact, more than interesting.

I'm always having the pen vs computer conversation with people who are amazed that I start writing everything by hand. I honestly believe that the brain works differently when I'm writing with a pen in my hand and when I'm typing. And I love the feel of the hand moving across the page. (I'm also picky about the kind of paper I use -- pretty much only Clairefontaine or Rhodia.)

I do revise a bit as I type the draft into the computer, but then I print out and revise by hand before going back to the "machine". And of course this happens more than once!

It's nice to see someone else doing the same thing.