Thursday, February 26, 2015

Falling in Love with Revision

by Jackie King

Do you love or hate revision? When I first started writing I hated what seemed to me a tedious and mostly unnecessary exercise. What could need correcting except perhaps, punctuation and spelling? I had stories to tell and a passion to write these tales from the depth of my heart. I did a fair job of it, too, I thought. I even managed to sell a couple of short stories. (This was some time ago and the short story market was good.)

My mother, an English teacher, also wrote and hung around with folks having the same inclination. One of her more successful writer friends, a local journalist named Vera Holding, dropped by with a draft she’d just banged out on her typewriter. (Those were the clickety-clackety, non-electrical machines that writers, businesses and students used for letters, manuscripts and such back in the dark ages.)

“Would you listen to my story and give me some feedback?” Vera asked, and we agreed, so she began to read aloud. I had seen this woman’s published work and expected smooth and polished prose, but that didn’t happen. Her story was so bad I couldn’t think of anything to suggest that might help. Her work was unsalable in my opinion. So I decided to be kind and lie. “That’s just fine,” I said, and smiled.

Mother, who knew the woman and her work much better than I did, made some suggestions to strengthen the plot, but nothing could save that story. Or so I thought. Her work had no plot; her characters were shallow and her writing seemed lifeless. But bless her heart, I thought, she’d not learn that from me.

The next day Vera came back and asked to read her revised story aloud. I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes, disappointed that I had to listen to that drivel a second time. But I was raised to be polite, so I folded my hands in my lap, crossed my ankles, and pasted a smile on my lips.

When Vera began to read something magical happened. The day before I’d been bored and even a little embarrassed by her writing. Now I was transfixed. Somehow this author had breathed life into her characters, their dialogue and the narration. The plot was still weak, but the protagonist was so compelling that I knew the story would sell. And it did.

That day I became a devotee to the power of revision. I also learned the difference between a wanna-be writer and a professional writer. Learning and applying good writing technique takes time and many, many hours of writing. But anyone who is willing to make the effort and to revise their work until its right, can master this skill.

Years have passed and revision is my favorite part of writing.


Jean Henry Mead said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Jackie. Anyone who attempts to sell a first draft is setting herself up for failure.

Bill Kirton said...

I'm just about to set off for Dundee to do a workshop in a school. It's the first of 5 intended to help students with the transition to university. One of the points I'll make and stress is that writing and editing are separate functions calling for different skills. The same applies even more for writers of novels and stories.

June Shaw said...

Oh, Jackie, can I send you my second or third drafts so you can have fun and revise for me?

Yes, of course I do it, but I cannot enjoy the process.

So can I send mine to you?

Jackie King said...

Well said, Jean! You wrote for newspapers before you became a novelist, and you had to write to deadline. That also, was wonderful training. The combination of the two qualities are needed to be successful.

Loved hearing from you. Thanks for your comment.

Jackie King said...

Hi Bill, The students in your workshops are lucky! I wish someone had explained that to me when I was their age. It would have leveled some of the hills that I had to climb while learning to write a complete sentence in English.

Jackie King said...

June, you made me laugh. I do often go in for overkill.

After a long bout with flu and then pneumonia, I'm (again) beginning my second draft of THE CORPSE AND THE GEEZER BRIGADE. Yesterday went well and I actually had fun editing the first chapter. Today? Who knows? I'll probably be slogging through half-set cement up to my neck!