Wednesday, July 13, 2016

What Condition My Revision is In

This is how I used to do it.

Write a story from beginning to end. Check it for gross grammar gufaws and spelling splunk, then submit to my instructor. After my story or poem or essay was critiqued in a workshop setting where everyone reads your work and makes comments, I would go back to my desk and edit, a few things. Sometimes I considered my classmates comments, but more often I took the lazy route and corrected only the problems I thought were issues.

My professors at UIUC told us the revisions should be "significant," yet how does one evaluate "significant"? I rationalized that my "significant" had to be significant enough. I had other classes you know, a husband, children, grandchildren, pigs that had to be fed for God's sake, thus my  second draft was often completed in less than "significant" ways. I submitted it on time and I received credit for following the assignment, but what did I gain?


I knew my work could be better. I knew I took the easy way out. I knew I had shorted myself.

So, with two years of classes behind me which included three poetry and four creative writing classes plus several other classes which required nonfiction essays,  I am not surprisingly, mildly appalled at some of my work. Granted a couple of pieces were brilliant, (the moon was high and bright those nights) but most were not my best work.

Now though, is my chance for serious revisions and I am delighted to tell you, I'm having a blast doing it. I saved the majority of my classmates comments and you know what? Some of those young folk were brilliant! Their comments were right on. Using phrases like, "this sounds forced" and "would a mother really say this?!" have made me laugh out loud. Much of my early work was forced and cliched and deserved the red pen, although they usually used black and once green.  They said or wrote positive things too, but it was the brave ones, the ones who called me out by pronouncing, "this makes no sense at all," who push me forward now.

Below is one of my stories and the section in italics was the memory a son had of his father. One of my classmates comments is on the left. he wrote, "I understand the sentiment here, but it feels too perfect, like a sepia toned photograph."

Sepia toned photograph. My classmate nailed it, the scene was entirely too sappy and at this point in my story, the father had not earned his sons fond memories of him. I ended up taking out the scene entirely and the story gained its own validity.

So, how do I revise now? I read a piece of my work, twice. The first time I just read, but the second time, I read it out loud. Our eyes can fool us into thinking we've written something well, but when read aloud, the bumpy parts are heard, like nails on a chalkboard. If I have them, I read through the comments made by others, but only once. I look for trends in the comments.Then, I set drafts, comments, everything,  out of reach, and  I rewrite the piece from scratch. This was a technique suggested by Professor John Rubins at UIUC. He said, "What is good will reappear, and what is bad will fall away."

Often my final draft is very different from my first draft, a result I have come to appreciate.

Try revising some of your work this way, and let me know your thoughts. Or,take a moment and tell me your revision process and why it works for you.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Mentor Wanted: No Benefits, No Salary, Lots of Gratitude.

I recently attended Publishers Row Literary Fest in Chicago, held every June, and although I always enjoyed it the other years I went, this time I came away feeling nauseous. My head was spinning Exorcist style with questions.

How did all these writers get published?

How many are still writing today?

Is their work any good?

Who decides?

The immensity of this literary world, filled with writers, agents, editors, publishers and cut rate book dealers is absolutely overwhelming to this emerging writer, Where do I begin? Pick one genre or expand into several? Focus on small local magazines or shoot for the stars? Submit only to publications that pay or be damn happy to have my name in print on a Farmers Market Brochure in exchange for free Kelp?

In nursing, when a new grad was hired she/he was assigned  a mentor, usually an older nurse with several years experience under her scrubs and a special relationship with the dietary crew so that she got the fresh cake made today and not the runny pudding made two day prior. While in school, for example, you learned which meds were best for pain control in the terminally ill, but this older, wiser,  nurse would teach you how to get Dr. I. M. Arrogant to give you the order for that narcotic when you wanted it, when the patient needed it,  rather than on his next rounds.  She guided you from air-headed theory into nuts and bolts practicum. She taught you the tricks for survival.

But I am without such a wizened leader in this new field I've chosen. While in school this last go round, sitting in classes taught by some amazing well-published and well-respected professors, I was too caught up in deadlines and MLA formatting to ask about aftercare.

So, I've developed a plan. I like plans and lists and tables. They serve as great procrastination tools, for while I am filling in grafts and putting my to-do list in alphabetical order,  I can avoid the obvious task that must be taken, to reach out and contact someone. Anyone.

I will start with my most recent professors at The University Of Illinois and extend my call for help to a couple more I met at National University Ireland Galway. I'll go from there and let you know how it evolves. If you have ideas on how to break down some of these barriers for new writers,  how to meet more people in the know,  please throw me a bone. If you are vegetarian,  just leave a comment.