More notes on revision…

I spent some time talking with a former student today over coffee. He’s a serious writer and has just had his first acceptance for publication. He’s applying to MFA programs and I told him that I thought the most important thing he could do between now and the time he started at whichever school he attended was to practice daily his craft. It seems that many people want to write, but think of writing only in vague terms, vague longings to be heard, to have an audience. Those folks get to the MFA thinking that it will make them writers. The deadlines, the classes, the instant community, all of these things make it easy to be a writer during the time one attends the program. Some folks don’t really write before they get there, and many don’t write after they leave. The reasons are complicated and quite varied, and I can’t state that I know for sure what it all means, but unless you are willing to do the work before you attend school—do the work while attending to the daily life of chores—the school will be but a busy interlude of letters. Same goes for after school—the long, sometimes lonely work of filling blank pages. It’s tough to approach the page day after day knowing that the reality of writing is quite different than the dream of writing. Part of this revolves around revision. It’s taken me a long time to learn how ruthless I have to be in revision. I have to maintain vigilance against the “okay” sentence and dismiss the voice that tells me a sentence is “fine.” I don’t want okay and fine, but I find myself skimming over okay and fine sentences all the time. I’m trying to approach writing differently now than I did in my thirties. Here are the first two pages of the third story of my recent batch. As with all the stories I wrote for this collection, I wrote the whole story longhand, transcribed it into the computer, fixed it as best as I could on the screen, and then printed it out. Now the real work begins.


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