Poetic News and Let’s Say My Dog Eats Hardcopy

Congratulations to Mr. Nick Lantz. He won the Levis Reading Prize for his poetry collection, We Don’t Know We Don’t Know. Read all about Mr. Lantz’s well deserved award here. Then read all about him. Then just read.

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Late last month, Joe Hill blogged about his revision process. It’s insightful and interesting and well worth your eyes.

I do, however, hold a different opinion concerning one of his comments. Hill writes that editing on your computer rather than printing off hardcopy is “lazy.” I won’t dive into my entire revision process, but here’s a snapshot: I edit from the screen. (Whisper: People should work and think differently. Otherwise the world would be banal or, worse, like Omelas.)

I have edited hardcopy, but I learned that I rewrite and revise far too much and often to print pages. Once revisions begin, I am jumping back and forth throughout the document, counting how many times I use words or particular syntax, and moving paragraphs to see how they look in multiple places — the creator of the Find function should have his/her/its feet kissed daily. Sometimes first drafts are completely different from others, and if I changed character names, I’d have an entirely new story with only a few elements tying it to later drafts. Bottom line, I cannot revise in a reasonable amount of time if I print off hardcopy — I might go broke, too.

Here’s a short example of my process that I created for this post. The revisions go in sequential order:

The footsteps were loud, clomping the floor above him, while he sat in the damp corner.

Footsteps clomped on the floor above him, while he sat in the corner.

Footsteps, footsteps, footsteps, back and forth they went across the floor above him.

Footsteps, footsteps, footsteps, back and forth they stomped across the floor above.

If it only took four revisions of this sentence, printing off hardcopy would be okay, but each of these four sentences had multiple revisions, were read about ten times each, and I do this for every sentence in my stories. Unless I print manuscripts for each major draft, my pages would look like squiggly black holes after editing.

By the fourth sentence here, I think I’ve figured out the best opener, but it might change depending on the second sentence. As it stands now, I decided the first does not need to introduce the character or the condition of the lower level, but should focus on the repetition of footsteps, and the image of them not just stepping on the floor above but stomping. It raises questions: What’s on the floor above? Why are people stomping rather than walking? What’s on this floor? Again, depending on the next sentence and the following and the following, more words or syntax might change as more is revealed to me. (Whisper, whisper: I don’t normally edit until after the entire first draft is finished, but writing and editing sentence by sentence from the git-go is another technique you might try.)

Hinted above, I don’t plan when I begin writing a story, so editing on my computer allows for copious revisions. I like having general ideas and seeing where they take me. But once I figure out where I’m going and can answer a lot of questions I raised, a lot needs to change from the first draft, when I was mostly writing to get the main concept on the page. Usually, by the time I finish a story, when I have nothing else to say, I’ve done a full four to seven revisions. That’s me reading and editing — on the second and possibly third draft, I rewrite each paragraph above their original paragraph, because the original has the idea I want but not even close to having the text — straight through from beginning to end of the manuscript. However, each paragraph has likely been revised five to fifteen times, as I skip around the manuscript, and has been read ten to twenty.

This amount of revising and rereading can seem unnecessary, but it helps me adhere to a rule I follow. Every story has a perfect set of words that leads to an inevitable yet surprising ending; you’ll never find every word in the set but should try. When I write, I think about stitching words and sentences together in pleasing patterns (the images you read) with an exact amount of thread. In my ideal world, I like to imagine that if even one word in my story is off (using walked rather than stomped in the above example), the stitching begins to unravel and leaves a noticeable bulge in the pattern.

Again, I’m glad people edit differently. I’m not arguing that printing hardcopy is an ineffective or worthless part of the revision process, but that laziness is not always the motivation for editing directly from the screen.

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Slice of life: “You’re never going to sit in front of that computer again.” Woman pulling a suitcase down the sidewalk and talking to someone invisible to me.

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