Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections on Writing and Revision

*Disclaimer:  This is a post about writing, writing instructors I’ve worked with, and other author’s books.  I wrote it to create a conversation of sorts with some of my writing buddies out there, and it contains affiliate links to books on Amazon as well as other links; if this type of blog post is not your thing, please feel free to stop back next week, and I’ll post another personal vignette, which is my more typical blog entry.

When it comes to writing, nearly every writer, writing instructor, and writing coach has advice:  write everyday; write longhand, write in the morning, write 1500 words; write with other people; don’t write with other people; write in your pajamas; write with a bottle of whisky.  (Okay, most don’t mention that last one; although, I think a lot of famous writers have practiced it.)  Anyway, most of the advice is not bad advice, but as writers, we all have to figure out a system that works for us.  First, how do we generate and then germinate our ideas?  Next, how do we take those ideas or “one-draft wonders” and make them orderly and coherent, and then how to we polish our prose and eventually—with courage and resolve—push it out the door and into the world?  For me, I’ve gotten better at some of these tasks over the years, but I’ve yet to get it all worked out.  I still lack a comprehensive system. 

I am, personally, a big fan of workshops and classes.  I find that they help me set intermediary goals and allow me to interact with other writers, all of which I find invigorating.  I’ve taken in-person courses with Corbin Lewars (Creating a Life) in Seattle, and she has been great.  Corbin does an excellent job of creating a safe, nurturing space, and she really helps the writers she works with improve their confidence.  It was my initial class with Corbin that inspired me to create this blog, and my very first blog post is about her class.  I also published an article in 48 North Magazine called The Gals of the Shady Lady (on page 44) while in her class.

I’ve also recently taken an on-line class with Sheila Bender (A New Theology: Turning to Poetry in a Time of Grief), who hosts an online writing resource, called Writing It Real, which is highly valuable.  Sheila also does an exceptional job—especially in the virtual space—of bringing together supportive and inspiring women.  And she employs an innovative response method that helps show each writer where moments of brilliance appear in their writing—and then she helps them identify areas where their readers may become confused or may be left hanging.   Sheila also wrote an excellent book on writing called Writing and Publishing Personal Essays, which I am currently working through.  Sheila has lots of good suggestions and exercises for helping to get works started and some excellent recommendations for using structure.

Another great writing book is Pricilla Long’s The Writer’s Portable Mentor, which is a fabulous experience.  Pricilla offers genuine gems in her book to help writers think about their writing in new ways—helping them expand their writing lexicon and think about the music—actually the notes—in their manuscripts.  I’m also plodding through the exercises in Pricilla’s book, and I know that while I may not adopt every suggestion (she’s very big on longhand, and my handwriting is horrible), the exercises are exceedingly useful.  I’m now enjoying working more carefully with words and phrasing, and Pricilla actually helped me break through a revision block I was having recently.

After delivering four draft essays for Sheila’s recent online class, I was procrastinating about revising the essays and worrying that I would not be able to find suitable outlets for them.  Then, I stumbled on an old essay—about 12 years old—from when I was in graduate school.  I read it—having nearly no recollection of the content.  It was a piece I had drafted and revised carefully while in school, and when I read it a few days ago, I was surprised.  I liked it!  I could see where I had revised it and how I had shaped the sections of the essay.  I enjoyed my deft descriptions of characters from my past, and in a moment, it occurred to me:  I know how to revise!  I’ve done it effectively in the past, and I’m avoiding it for no good reason.

With that epiphany fresh in my mind, I picked up Pricilla’s book and did some of the lexicon work and re-read her section on slant rhyme and the vowel scale and set to work on one of my essays.  I’m still working on it, but the revisions seem to be going well, and more importantly, I’ve been reminded that the revision process can be just as rewarding as the initial outpouring of ideas.  Now that I’m in there, tinkering and rearranging, it’s fun again.  It was the idea of revision that was putting me off.  I was making an unconscious assumption that it would be tedious and boring, when in reality, the revision process is really exactly like the initial writing process.  Once I’m in it, I’m in the groove, gaining momentum—excited about the outcome.

So, writing buddies out there, which resources have been most helpful to you?  Which parts of the process—from initial creation to submission and publication—create the greatest challenge?  And, how have you overcome your obstacles?  I hope to hear from you!


  1. Hi Lisa, SheWrites sister here. I love all parts of writing - even when I get critique that shows how far I've wandered, because then I usually have good ideas for revision.

    Where I get stuck is creating a window of time to write. I know once I get in the groove I can (and will want to) go for 5-6 or more hours, so if I can't carve out that big a chunck of time, I tend to nibble around the edges - work on character sketches and backgroud, research, blogging & blog commenting. With the result, that my WIP isn't as far IP as I'd like it to me!

  2. Hi Beverly,
    Thanks for stopping by! I know what you mean about creating time and space for writing because it's true for me too that it takes a little bit of time to get into the groove--to get into that space where everything else disappears.

    What is your primary WIP? Also, I'll check out your blog.

    Hope to hear from you again!


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