Thursday, 29 March 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - What's Next?

Lately little sparks of writing wisdom seem to attract themselves to me like staticky socks.  The Jhumpa Lahiri blog on sentences.  William Martell's great article on creating drama in your screenplay that so perfectly illustrates the points I was making in the Go Organic post - that making it harder on yourself  - letting the demands of the situations and the conflicts that naturally arise dictate the writing - can actually make it easier...and better.

We've been in getting started territory for a while now - handling impulses, looking at the thing called Writer's Block, marshaling ideas, locating the energy in the work -  we've covered a lot!  Sitting down and opening the floodgates are the first, second, third, fourth...steps - well they are a large part of the process.

But there's more.

'Writing is rewriting' is what people always say.  And it has its truth.  I think of rewriting as something specific - different from editing, proofing, copy editing, and even different from revising.  I know - it sounds mysterious.  It's not.

Like Ike and Tina, let's start nice and easy, and then, no - I promise it'll never get that rough.

Maybe we should start by defining some of the terms.

Copy editing - Easy.  Simplest thing to do - once you've gotten the ideas out.  DON'T force yourself to copy edit as you go.  You can if you get stuck or run out of juice, but for the most part, leave the typos and grammatical agreement problems where they are until you're writing, finished gathering up the meaning, through stylizing the piece.  Don't break your flow - there'll be time to do it later.

Sure, spell and grammar check will catch some stuff, but you do need to go through it.  There are plenty of things they won't catch - like the difference between using it's and its, or their and they're and there.  Don't ask people to read or give feedback on messy files - it's disrespectful of their time AND it's going to get you the wrong kind of feedback - do you want to know if your piece has typos or do you want to know if it makes sense, has impact, has a good rhythm, is interesting?

If you don't know your basics - learn, find out, and get yourself some handbooks!

Proofreading - We're rapidly losing the distinction between copy editing and proofing.  Proofreading is looking at proofs and correcting them for publication.  For me, it's the last once-over before sending it out, uploading a file, or sending something to the printer.  I think it's a good idea to include this step even in our digital publishing universe.  Honestly, I proofed versions of my book 4 times, and still found a typo a few months down the road in a printed copy!

Don't skip this step if your writing is heading into the world in print form.

Editing - A lost art.  I lament the days of the star editor - like Jackie Onassis whose books for Doubleday were some of the loveliest, tightest volumes.  A great editor makes a good writer great.  Having another pair of eyes - a skilled pair with audience, marketing, and the feel of the read in mind - is priceless.  Before you get to an editor, you've got to do it yourself.

Editing is refining the way you say things, tweaking the order of things, playing with style.  It's taking the bones of the piece and turning them into a skeleton. That dances.  And can grow skin.  It's a huge part of the time you may spend sitting at your writing.

No matter how first-thought-best-thought you may be - you need to edit.  People don't talk about it.  They pretend they don't do it, but the best writers edit, edit, edit.  They may not even know they are editing - they may think they are reading, re-reading and poking around, but that's an edit.

Revising - For my own purposes, I think of revising as what I do after I think I have a good draft, but before I do anything with that draft.  I put it away for a couple of days if I can, and then, feeling as though I've got everything in there I need to, have checked for errors, and have turned it into what I hoped for, I step back into it.  I do this in the hopes that now that my brain has drained all the expectations it was holding for this particular piece, that I will see something else.  Something new.  Something luscious.  Something serendipitous.  Something I just couldn't see before, because I had too much going on in my head.  Revising is a great moment.  It's when you can take that extra step closer to your reader.  It's a great opportunity to become a better writer than when you sat down to write your draft.

Rewriting - Again - for my own purposes - rewriting is a specific idea to me, separate from everything above.  Rewriting is what you do once you've "published" a draft - that can mean sending out a version of a script to actors and director, it can mean standing up on stage reading it in front of people, or just letting some friends give you feedback.

It's an overhaul, based on all that you know now, but didn't know then, all the things you didn't manage to layer in the current draft.  The more complicated and long the original, the more likely it will need a rewrite.  You are not a bad writer if you need to go through drafts- going through drafts is what makes you a good writer because it is what produces good writing.

There more to be said about editing, revisions and rewrites, but at least we have some parameters for what these are.  It's important to realize this process is part of the timeline for your project - don't deliver without going throgh these steps in you can help it.  And you can.

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)

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