Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Well, it's been a week of things I've never done before - and tonight, without planning it, I did something else new: I went back to a story that wasn't working, something I wrote about 6 months ago, to do some revising, and instead of just sitting there and reading and tweaking, alongside the story I opened a Sticky Note which is a great feature of Linux, the operating system I use (see left). And then I took notes on my story as I read it, exactly as if I was critiquing someone else's story.

Now, isn't this always the aim of a writer, to be able to see your own work as if through someone else's eyes? I know that I am a good critiquer, I have worked on these skills, learned them from many writing workshops: how to really see a story deeply, take it apart, from structure to language to point of view to character.

But -  I have never ever been able to really crit my own work, even with a much older story - I am always too attached to it, too in love with the language. Tonight I was slashing it! Writing notes like
  • declare - makes character sound unlikable
  • too writerly - kill it
  • stilted
  • oh too clunky! 
What a relief, to do this slash and burn... and instead of worrying about making the story longer, actually be cutting far more words than I was adding. Each time I re-read it, I saw more utterly unnecessary "fat" to be trimmed.

It went from 1223 words that made me mostly cringe to 443 words that I actually am rather happy with.

Plot-wise, it now gives away far less, and now I am now not at all sure what is happening. And this is always the way I prefer to write. I hadn't "noticed" that the first drafts were way to "obvious", with some really really cheesy devices going on. How could I?! Well, it doesn't matter. We all do it. The main thing is to do it, see it, take it out. Phew. A good night's work - 800 negative words gained!


Sue Guiney said...

Great exercise. Man, you're on a roll!

Lauri said...

It seems a good excercise but I doubt I'd do it. What's the point really? Isn't it as you go along you delete and tweak and you know somewhere why- what's the reason for writing it out? I don't get it. It seems a bit time consuming with not a lot of benefit. Are you planning to do this all of the time and then compare to find problems you usually have?

As Sue has said, though, you do seem to be doing all sorts of new writerly things and that is good.

Off topic- yesterday I finished my science chapter early but too late to start my fiction work so I decided to do an exercise from Short Circuit and did one of Vanessa's with using one of your opening lines. I went against her advice to my detriment and chose your line though I've read the story. I wrote 1200 words, most of which need to be deleted and couldn't end it but it exercised my fiction brain a bit. If it finds an ending I'll let you see.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Great exercise, T. Its how I approach some editing meself. I do a bit of tweaking as I go (as per lauri), to get the voice right for the wriitng, but then I take a machete to the piece when I dget to the end, often a while later.

Ive got a pile of stuff ready to be out for the blood up the walls.

Tania Hershman said...

Hi all, I'm interested that you called this an "exercise", for me it was just something I suddenly felt compelled to do and was different because by writing notes it felt the way it does when I am critiquing someone else's work. I've never taken notes in this way with my own work. I did it on impulse after having spent years not doing what I suspect other writers do naturally. Me being a bit behind, as usual!

Lauri - this blog is really only for me to document my process, in great part for me to keep a record, and certainly not to recommend my methods to anyone else! I have no idea if they work for me yet :) Forgive me if I misread your "tone" but you sounded a bit like you were annoyed with me for instructing you to try something you think is a bit of a waste of effort! I am not recommending anything to anyone, all I am doing is keeping a record of what I do. I've only done this once - I have no clue if I'll do it again, but it helped me see something here in a new way, helped me slash something that needed it, whereas before I would gently tweak and snip. I see this blog as a bit like the daily newspaper - tomorrow it might be only good for digital fish and chips - nothing is set in stone, I am certainly not trying to pontificate, writing this down helps me process what I am up to. I am always delighted if something I write in any way speaks to anyone else, but don't intend that when I blog. Sorry if I misunderstood you! And great about using Vanessa's exercise, I'd love to see it if you ever felt it was ready!

V - I know, I remember you blogging about how a day's work can end with you having far less words than you started with, that inspired me!

Sue - yes, does feel like there's some rolling going on!

Lauri said...

I meant nothing by it I just wanted to understand the point - how that showed you something that normal editing without consciously knowing why something must go would not. I try to use what I learn from others if it is useful but I wanted to understand what it was all about. That's all. Nothing more.