Thursday, March 4, 2010

Revision

I often wonder if blogging is actually good for my writing skills, or if it is just training me to spew any old verbal vomit on the page with no thought to craft. There are some bloggers, and I admire them greatly, whose every post is like a well-polished essay, an actual finished product worthy of publication and public consumption. I have at times (not in recent memory, though) written blog posts that were more in this essay-type style, but to do so regularly would reduce my posting to about a quarterly basis.

So I'm in this habit, of writing something, hitting "publish" to launch it into the world and move on to the next thing. No revision. No looking back. Good in that it is a writing practice and a possible way of turning off the internal critic. Not so good in that it doesn't encourage any type of editing or real consideration of "what exactly am I trying to say here?" Once in a while, though, I need to create a piece of writing that meets higher standards, and, I must say, I could use a little more practice.

A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my feature for the Spring issue of The Motherhood Muse. I had been feeling totally blocked, and had come up with nothing on the author I had planned to feature and was running out of time, so I resurrected a piece I'd included in Issue 10 of GEMINI, changed things around a bit and sent it off. Kim, the energetic, talented and immensely patient creator of The Motherhood Muse, sent back encouragement and a list of questions/areas she wanted me to explore in more depth.

At first I chafed a bit. I got pouty. "Isn't it obvious why I chose those quotes from the book?" I thought. I'm not one who readily explains my motivations, so to dig deeper and explore the reasons why I connected with this particular book and author was, at first, annoying (ironic, considering, a) it's a literary reflections feature and b) I was profiling a deeply introspective writer).

But I'm a grownup. I don't need to pout forever, and I do a TON of "writing by committee" at work, so I'm very used to not taking editing personally (even when it's more personal writing). I sat down with my printout of the essay and Kim's thoughts and questions. I scratched out some sentences. I scribbled some notes. I had a few moments of insight. I set it aside, watched some Olympics. Read A Bird in Hand. Went on an overnight ski trip. Knitted. Read Shadow Tag. Watched more Olympics. Had two playdates at our house Saturday. Tore everything out of my closet and took a bag of old clothes to a clothing swap. Watched The Third Man. Went to writing group. Watched The 39 Steps. Woke up Monday morning to a slightly panicked email from Kim...where the hell is that essay??? (couched, of course, in much nicer terms).

Monday night, exhausted from too many late nights and a general inability to focus, I put the kids to bed (told the "The Three Spinners") kicked C off the computer, settled on the couch with my print-out, the book, my notebook and I revised. I scribbled out, made notes, circled, underlined, wrote whole new sentences and paragraphs. I finally found clarity--I figured out why I connected so fully with this book, and why another mother in another time and place should want to read it too. The final piece had maybe one-and-a-half paragraphs in common with the original. I didn't just re-write sentences to sound better (my usual method of "revision"), but I rethought what the piece was about and how I wanted to convey that.

It was exhilarating. Though I went to bed at 11:30 (after also writing a blog post and surfing a few blogs), I was awake and at 'em at 6:00. Tired, but energized. I got the kids ready and all of us out the door in record time (so fast, in fact, that when I got to the end of the driveway, M was still waiting for the bus and we had to hang out for a few more minutes before we could proceed). I think, perhaps, I should revise more often.

7 comments:

Kristen @ Motherese said...

I think you make an important point here about the way in which blogging is changing the nature of writing. In general, I am a perfectionist when it comes to my writing, but my interest in writing frequent blog posts all the while reading other writers' blogs and doing things like, say, raising my kids and eating challenges that perfectionism. So I do let my standards relax somewhat. That being said, I always prefer reading well-edited posts and always feel better when I post them. Sigh.

kendra said...

i do like how blogging feels more conversational, and you can 'get to know' the person in that way a bit better! but i also often have strange self-editing crises when i post about more intimate things! excited to read your piece!

Shannon said...

great post! i've struggled with this for a while as well and have fought with my perfectionism. i've decided that i must let that go or i could never truly move forward. if i make an error here or there i have to accept that. in fact, i really respect the blogs i read that don't capitalize...i think "wow, how freeing." there is something to letting go of the rules and just writing to write.

6512 and growing said...

Hi, new to your blog (found via Kyce). I used to be much more perfectionist about editing my pieces to death before I started blogging, which usually had good results. With blogging, there really isn't time for that sort of reworking. But, I do feel like quality trumps quantity anyday.
It also seems like one perk of blogging is not having an editor, and being your own "publisher," maybe the trade off is less polished pieces.

Sue said...

I think you're right about the silencing of the inner critic. I read a book one time that suggested writing for 1/2 hour every morning whatever comes into your head - just to get all the slog out: complaining, whining, etc. and to leave the space empty and ready to receive and act upon 'good' stuff.

Also, I think any writing is good practice. Especially e-mail, believe it or not. With the back and forth of an email you get to practice improvement of clarity.

Sue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue said...

the deleted post was a duplicate. sorry.

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