Discovering a new revision process

August 2, 2013

It’s often hard for writers to figure out what process works for them. Natasha posted to a blog chain sharing a few thoughts on her process a few weeks ago, and Storywonk Sunday devoted most of their podcast last week to talking about process, including their concept of the ‘Frog Box’, which I love; it’s a feature on their website that prompts you with process ideas to try, that other Wonks have sent in.

I stumbled across something new in terms of process for revising while I was at Odyssey, and apparently it’s stuck with me. The first thing you need to understand is, I’ve done a lot of critiquing before going to Odyssey, but aside from the few in-person writer’s circles I’ve gone to, most of it has been with electronic manuscripts; the novel swaps forum on Nanowrimo.org and the CSSF short stories workshop rely on email, and critters.org has a hybrid system where you can get manuscripts emailed to you or download them off the website, and send them in either way as well.

At Odyssey, everything was hard copy. You printed out your story when it was ready, Jeremy the work-study writer made fifteen photocopies, stapled them, and handed them out to everybody at the morning lecture. We made notes in pen on the hard copy, typed up and printed our overall critique of the story, and handed in the critiques and the marked-up manuscript back to the author after everybody had said their piece in the circle.

It’s a system with a lot to recommend it; there’s no confusion over possible multiple copies emailed out, or any possibility of somebody not getting the manuscript critiqued because the college wifi decided it didn’t like their laptop. Also, it means that it’s a lot harder for anybody to keep copies of somebody else’s work, which I can understand a lot of workshoppers being concerned about.

I have issues with pens. I’ve been holding them an unusual way ever since I was little, my handwriting is horrible to read, and for most things, writing in pen on paper saps my creative energy like a black hole sucking up everything that comes near. But marking up a printout in pen is never the worst thing. I’ve been able to critique in pen on paper before, and I did some of my Block Revision last summer with pen and paper–but when I needed to write long passages I had to switch over to the Alphasmart.

When I was working on a story to submit in week 2 of Odyssey, after I’d come up with a first draft, I was having a hard time looking at what I’d written on the computer screen and figuring out what changes I needed to make before I submitted it. So, somewhat whimsically, I printed it off and tackled it with my official Odyssey pen as if it were somebody else’s story I were critiquing, and that worked quite well. Like with Block Revision, I wouldn’t write many words on the manuscript, but generally with just a short scribbled phrase I could tell myself what I needed to know to expand on a scene or insert new action. I did that with every piece I submitted for the rest of Odyssey, and for the story I abridged to read at the Flash Fiction Slam in Nashua.

I guess I hoped that after being home from Odyssey for a week, I could go back to editing by staring at the computer screen. Either that, or I entirely forgot about this new approach. But I went back to the paper and pen approach for my new revision of ‘Masterpiece’, and it’s still working great. Something about having a pen and a printout really brings the best out of my Inner Editor; who’d have thunk it. Maybe he’s just trying to find his own thing and emphasize how different he is from my Inner Pantser, who’s all about fingers on the keyboard. Whatever. As long as he’s willing to perform, I don’t mind killing a few trees for him.

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What process do you write in?

September 26, 2012

There was some great conversation between the four of us who showed up to Chester’s Beers of the World for the Hamilton Writers meeting last night – once they turned down the music enough that we could hear each other speak, that is. 😉

One interesting topic that came up was our choice of writing process – specifically between three very different experiences – typing on a keyboard, scribbling with a pen or pencil on paper, and speaking into a voice recorder. It was interesting to see how different people reacted to the different options.

I’m a typer; I have been since I was very young; taught myself how to go beyond two-finger hunt and peck typing, though it took proper typing lessons to cure myself of looking at the screen. I have handwriting so horrible that I can’t read it myself, and I get very nervous about the sound of my voice and my ums and uhs if I try talking into a voice recorder. But I’ve never really needed an alternative to typing – it’s a process that works very well for me.

The new gentleman who brought up this topic for conversation said that he found that a voice recorder and Dragon Naturally Speaking work very well for him – especially after he’s reached the halfway point in a story, which is where the tough part usually begins for him. He can usually cruise through the first half on a keyboard, he said, but then gets blocked if he can’t talk it through. Another writer that I’ve known for many years mentioned that she associates keyboards as a tool for a day job, not a part of her writing process, so she writes her first drafts out in longhand.

Have you found the process that works for you? Is there some special subprocess within those big three that you write best with, (a particular keyboard device, that perfect notebook paper, or whatever?) Do you ever wish that you could find a better process than the one you’re writing with now?


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