“There are at least three kinds of ‘global’ revisions before the writer gets to the happy stage of pointing the prose. (That is, just as a mason ‘points’ a hearth by carefully filling in mortar around all the joints of the cemented bricks of stones, leaving clean edges and a finished look; at this state the writer fills in all the gaps between words, solidifies the grammatical joints within sentences, smoothes out the transitions between sentences, and makes the whole artifice look straight, clean, and beautiful.) Global revision takes in the following points: 1. Revising for structure (integrity of whole, transitions, integrity of parts). 2. Revising for story (narrative stance, text, and theme). 3. Revising for quality (clarity, tone, emotional impact).”
— Philip Gerard
Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 120, 515. (1024 words removed.)
Page Count for the novel: 442
Back from a writers’ retreat, you’d think I’d be glowing with the progress I made, but I’m not. I’m suddenly aware of what I can and cannot do. I can pick apart a manuscript till it bleeds, down to the very syllable, but I can’t seem to read globally. Why is that?
By “read globally,” I mean curl up in a comfortable chair and let the pages slip by, sans judgment, pen hidden, editor brain turned off. Reading to get a sense of scope, the overall structure and arc, the momentum — or lack thereof. Stand on the mountaintop, breeze stirring your hair, and look down at what you hath wrought over these several years and gaze upon it like a beloved creation still in need of molding. That wisdom of how ye shall shape it floats your way like a revelation, and ye shall return for an eighth day of shaping….
It just ain’t happening.
Maybe it’s the manuscript? Perhaps it’s so clunky, I can’t help but stop every sentence and edit? In From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler talks about twangs versus thrumming….if your story had a sound, you’d definitely want it to be a thrum-thrum-thrum — a machine finely oiled, graceful and smooth.
There are clunks and clangs and squeaks but it’s not the manuscript that’s unreadable. I’m guessing this problem reflects my type-A, workhorse personality that believes it’s a sin to sit and read and not do something. The intensive editorial scrutiny works just fine if your story is 25 pages or less, but the problem is, mine is more like 600-700 pages when done. Right now it’s not even that, as I’ve not allowed all the pages on the cutting-room floor back in, but I’m banking on the final count being at least 600. So I must read globally if I ever hope to understand this hefty tale.
Reading is enough in itself; why can’t I see that? Doing what my reader will eventually do — living in the moment of the manuscript and see where I’m tempted to skim with heart-racing pleasure or drop it, I’m so ready for a nap — that is exactly what an artist must do with her work. See it as the audience will.
So maybe my God metaphor was way off; it assumes a) omniscient wisdom and b) a pedestal above the fray and all us artists have a word for that: bullpuckey. I just need to be a reader. Then maybe I can get at what Philip Gerard advises in the quotation above — a tripartite process that demands its own kind of careful scrutiny.
The other day I made a rule for myself. I must read for at least 30 minutes, pen down, before I can pick. (I imagine those who counsel people out of bad habits might say it’s too hard to go cold turkey.) I woke up this morning sure of my purpose; that I must read this way. Then I got out of my chair and decided to blog. Blogging is doing something; reading is not.
You see my problem?
Let’s go back to the retreat where I struggled to honor global revision. I was blessed to be with five other women who walked softly between rooms, who spoke gracefully and humorously at meals, and who both love and hate to write for all the reasons I speak of. It was a glorious retreat and I thank them for their inspiration and companionship. It’s not often one can find such kindred spirits!
See? I can sometimes step back and get a global view of an experience. Next up: my novel. May all my pens disappear at that moment when I find my reader’s chair…
Writing Goal: My ultimate aim: 150,000 – 170,000 words and a complete fourth draft ready for hard-copy editing by December. I am submitting a story today or later this week to AROHO’s Orlando Prize for Short Fiction contest, and I am also writing a new short story for the Good Housekeeping Short Story Contest.
Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
1. Write about your bad habits. Let a Bad Habit tell a story. Give it a name and then let it tell you some things. How did it get here? How big and bad is it? How long does it plan to stay?
2. Write about a favorite character in a story and his or her bad habit. Does the character try to change it? Does it get the character in trouble? What do you think of this bad habit?
3. Write a story or poem that begins with this first line: Hey, Habit, how are you?
Secondary and Adult Prompts
Write about a habit of mind. What ways of thinking — thinking that leads to action — do you find your common practice? Or what ways of thinking have you worked hard over the years to cultivate?
Write about a character from a favorite story who has a bad habit. Describe the habit and discuss: a) the effects of the habit on the character and others; b) how much the character is aware of it; and c) how you think the habit might influence the outcome of the story.
Write this character a note (email, text, letter, tweet) about the habit. You can take one or both of two approaches: a) empathize by describing one of your bad habits, and/or b) encourage the character to overcome this habit using your best logic and emotional appeals.
Write a story or poem that begins with this first line: You see, I have this little habit…