This past Sunday I attended a writing workshop, a rare event in this town due to size, opportunity, and celestial conjunctions. So when these things do happen in town, if it is at all possible I move heaven, earth and my pocket book to attend.
And boy howdy, am I glad I did!
Brian Henry of Quick Brown Fox came up to Sudbury by invitation of the Sudbury Writers Guild to present “Writing and Revising.” There were about fifteen of us, broken up into groups of three or so, and we took copious notes during the first half and then did writing exercises during the second half. Mr. Henry graciously offered his time after the workshop to go over individual pieces but that was cut short due to other commitments for the space.
It was a real eye-opener. I attended one of his workshops, lord, maybe ten years ago when I was still a member of the Guild. I have the notes around here. Somewhere. (And it made me quite grumbly when I couldn’t find them, too.)
Revision, to me, was always what came after. You wrote, you struggled and you persevered! You found joy and horror in the process, you laughed, you cried. Then it ends and you have this thing, which may or may not be lovely or despicable, and it feels like you can legitimately say you’re done. You can walk away and mostly not feel guilty. Revising was something I should do, like exercise or cleaning out the fridge, but typically didn’t. Mostly, it was avoidance based on the perception of hard work in a unguided task by a total newbie that might just muck things up worse.
Not so any longer.
Brian Henry made an awesomely useful and (in hind sight) stunningly obvious comment — revision is not about figuring out what’s wrong but looking to see how you can make it better.
This followed with a stream of excellent advice (I could barely keep up with my typing), though interestingly he spent a lot of time on something that I rarely think about, Voice. Not that I shouldn’t worry about voice, but so much of the time I’m all focused on “Do my characters react or just act?”, “Does this scene make sense?”, “Is there a glaring plot hole here?”, and so on. I’m focused very tightly on my map, sometimes too much.
Voice — its necessity, its usefulness, its strengths — isn’t something I usually think about. But it’s such an expansive, holistic approach that has been utterly absent. I left with a very full and happy brain, and an itch to get back to work.
As far as the individual pieces, his advice was perfect, identifying quickly those spots where my gut had that little niggling “it’s not right…” reaction. In the piece we did on the spot, he asked the questions that gave me the stepping stone to complete the short-short. And for my longer piece, he zeroed in on the part I needed to expand to make the ending work. This is going to be a weird comparison, but it’s like I’m back in cooking school again, I’ve just gotten my knife set, and someone’s shown me how to hold the knife properly for the very first time. A freakin’ revelation!
Holy cats, people! I’m actually excited about revising.