Friday, July 05, 2013

Writers on Writing: Revision and Revision and Revision

Right now I'm working on a chapter and it feels as though I am not herding cats, but trying to put fish in a tank that will hold them all without injuring them.  The last three chapters have felt as though they ought to be books in themselves, but I don't have that luxury right now (because: deadline!), so I keep reminding myself that selection is a virtue. I don't have to write about every book that will fit the chapter's criteria.

Here are some pieces of writing inspiration on revision.

Craig Fehrman at The Boston Globe talks about how technology changed the way the modernists thought about revision. No more dashing off an inspired piece of writing until the Man from Porlock interrupts and then throwing your pen down and declaring the poem done. For Pound, Eliot, and Hemingway, revision was all.

In all this, the most important technology may have been the typewriter. Today we equate a keyboard with speed, the fastest way to get words down, but as Sullivan points out this wasn’t always the case. In fact, a typescript offered a chance to slow down. Most Modernist writers, like Hemingway with “The Sun Also Rises,” wrote by hand and then painstakingly typed up the results. That took time, but seeing their writing in such dramatically different forms—handwritten in a notebook, typed on a page, printed as a proof—encouraged them to revise it aggressively. “Much as I loathe the typewriter,” W.H. Auden wrote, “I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism. Typescript is so impersonal and hideous to look at that, if I type out a poem, I immediately see defects which I missed when I looked through it in manuscript.”

Joyce Carol Oates apparently still writes by hand but revises via computer in this three-minute video.

Some highlights:
--She can "basically write all day long."
--She writes every day, as soon as she can, even before 7 a.m.
--She looks out the window and her cat keeps her company.
--Revision is "exciting and relaxing."
--Writing is "thrilling."

Yes, the video is inspiring. Yes, it will make you feel like an unproductive slug.


P said...

i needed this. thanks!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I used to enjoy revising. At present, it's agonizing. Maybe because it's not sentence or even paragraph level revision, but more structural, and structure is so hard for me.

OK, Carolyn See's affirmations just kicked in, on the interior self-talk front---I must have learned something! "UP TO NOW, I have found structure hard, but now it is easy and I enjoy it!" From her mouth to my Muse's ear . . .

undine said...

P--thank you! I needed to read them, too.

Dame Eleanor--I had to look up Carolyn See and will need to look into her work--thanks!

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

I love Oates's house and study. I wouldn't want to have to look after that garden, though. I'd never get anything else done. (Can't see the point of having a gardener: when it comes to gardens, I want to do it myself or not have it at all.)