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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » A Ramble on Revision and Working Habits

   
Author Topic: A Ramble on Revision and Working Habits
Balthasar
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Let me begin by noting that on April 1, I decided to write a story a week. I've tried writing X-amount of words a day, but I found that gave me little sense of accomplishment. I've also tried writing X-amount of hours a day, and while that was liberating in its own way, again there was little sense of accomplishment. Then I heard of Jay Lake and his story-a-week discipline, and I thought, Hey, that sounds like the remedy to my disease.

But last night, I had a good conversation with a friend about the writing process and revision. I'll eschew the details. The essence of the conversation was that all writers outline. Some do it in their heads, some with note cards, some with bullet points, some with Roman numerals, and some with 500 pages of prose. The real labor of the writer begins when he has to take whatever outline he has and shape it into a piece of fiction. I've been writing long enough to know this is true. (I'm also an advocate of writers actually writing second drafts, but that's a whole separate issue.)

Examples to prove this point abound. Dostoevsky began Crime and Punishment thinking he was going to write about the effect of alcoholism. In the first draft of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's protagonist was the young bullfighter. You have the charts and notes that wallpapered Fitzgerald's study. Then you have John Irving's peculiar method, namely, beginning with the end and working backwards, writing the ending to every chapter first, then the beginning of each chapter, and only then writing the middles.

Well, after trying various ways of writing over the years, I've finally realized that I'm a 500-page outliner -- that I need a long, rambling first draft to find the story I want to tell. Only when I have this first draft finished can I then begin to shape it, perhaps even writing an outline, character sheets, etc., before setting out on a second draft. If that's the case, I can live with it.

But the question I'm pondering is this: Is it wise, then, to try to write a story a week? Would it not be better to focus on one story, rewriting it and rewriting it, until it's polished and ready to be put in the mail?

So, should I try to write a story a week? Or should my goal be to put every story I write on the market?

This seems like a false dichotomy. What am I missing?

[This message has been edited by Balthasar (edited April 13, 2007).]


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TheOnceandFutureMe
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I'm all for writing a story a week (not that I actually accomplish that much). I've found that sometimes if I try outlining a story, the same thing often happens as when I try to tell someone about a story idea. The story kind of goes dead in my mind. I'm no longer interested in writing it.
On the other hand, I did outline a couple of my favorite stories that I've written.
So I almost never outline, unless I've got a complicated plot that I absolutely have to map out.

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Balthasar
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Okay, I think I figured out where I went wrong. I set up this opposition: writing a story a week vs. working on a story until its marketable. But these are not necessarily exclusive.

My own vision is that the only way you can find a story to tell is by writing a story to begin with. This is why I like long rambling first drafts, which is essentially a brainstorming session. 6,000 words of brainstorming might not yield a good story idea, yet it might very well be essential for my development as a writer, because in in "failure" lessons are learned. In fact, looking back, I see that I quit writing a year ago because I was TOO focused on putting every story in the mail. I didn't give myself the freedom to write poorly, and therefore I couldn't write at all. So a massive amount of production is essential for me as a writer.

As the same time, I'm not doing this in order to preserve my daydreams on paper. I want to be a writer. Though it would be nice to make a living writing, that's not my goal. My goal is to be a professional writer. And that's not a goal one can achieve if one doesn't send out his stuff.

So how do I combine these two?

Well, in baseball, if a hitter bats .300 -- if he hits only 30% of the time -- he goes to the Hall of Fame. To put that in the negative, a hitter goes to the HoF if he strikes out 70% of the time, if he doesn't get on base 7 of every 10 at bats.

This analogy does translate to writing. I think Ray Bradbury said that he's published only about 30% of what he's written.

All of this means that I should be happy if for every 10 stories I write only 3 are worth the added effort of rewriting until it's salable.

Thanks for listening.


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InarticulateBabbler
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quote:

I think Ray Bradbury said that he's published only about 30% of what he's written.

All of this means that I should be happy if for every 10 stories I write only 3 are worth the added effort of rewriting until it's salable.


Do you compare yourself to other writers? What Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Orson Scott Card, or Stephen King did, doesn't mean SQUAT. The market is constantly changing and evolving. It's not the same as when ANY of them started. It never will be again.

Wouldn't you be happy if one of your stories sold?

IMHO - I write because I have to. Something inside of me won't let go of it. Sure I want to publish, but if I don't, I'll just keep on writing, anyway. Every one that I manage to sell is just icing on the cake.


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Robert Nowall
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I used to turn out stories at about that rate...of course, they were awful...also, I was into a "one-draft-no-revisions" period where I just typed and was done, though I would occasionally throw a page away. (You of the word processing era might not relate to this.) Later on, 'round the time I entered the real world and had less time to spare, I lost the knack of turning 'em out like that.

quote:
Wouldn't you be happy if one of your stories sold?

Really I think I would have. Right now I might not be as grateful as I once would have been---I think it's long past due---but I'd still rather some of them sold than not sold.


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Balthasar
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I wasn't comparing myself to Bradbury. All I was doing was demonstrating that a good batting average in baseball can be translated to good production results in writing, and that I shouldn't fret if 70% of my stories aren't worth the time or energy it'd take to send it through another revision or two, as well as a final polish.
quote:
Wouldn't you be happy if one of your stories sold?

I certainly would be. But I'm not sure what your point is.

Finally, since you brought it up, I completely reject the Romantic notion that the artist is compelled to write. I take the ancient and medieval view -- making art, like doing anything, is a choice. I write because I like stories. I write because I like to craft sentences and paragraphs. I write because I love the English language. I write because I like to make up stories. But ten thousands likes do not make a single compulsion.

[This message has been edited by Balthasar (edited April 13, 2007).]


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I am destiny
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This is SO ME, I'm glad I'm not the only one...

Quote:

Well, after trying various ways of writing over the years, I've finally realized that I'm a 500-page outliner -- that I need a long, rambling first draft to find the story I want to tell. Only when I have this first draft finished can I then begin to shape it, perhaps even writing an outline, character sheets, etc., before setting out on a second draft. If that's the case, I can live with it.

I'd go with what feels right, I had to write 5 books before I could come back to the 1st to revise and even that isnt going well at the moment...

Quote:

IMHO - I write because I have to. Something inside of me won't let go of it. Sure I want to publish, but if I don't, I'll just keep on writing, anyway.
I agree with that too if I never publish my children will have some sort of legacy of me...


[This message has been edited by I am destiny (edited April 13, 2007).]


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DeepDreamer
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I tried doing the story-a-week thing. I tried doing a story-a-month. I simply cannot write a short, simple story. My stories always grow faster than I can prune them. I took a class in writing articles and short stories and the effort to write a 1,000 word story in any amount of time about killed me.

So my goal now, the one that's working best for me, is a chapter a week. I've got a basic outline of my current WIP. I've got a couple sentences written per chapter. Okay, so many of the chapters have "to be decided" next to the chapter number, but that's okay for now. And each week I've sat down and written one chapter. Progress so far: 3 chapters. At this rate, I'll have it done by the end of the year.

I also tend to rewrite and revise my prose to death. So at the end of the week, I'm done with the chapters. I won't revise it again until I have this whole thing done. I've been making notes on things I already want to change, but the first three chapters stand as is.

This is what works for me. Every writer has to find his or her own best way of writing. The main thing to keep in mind is that you want something that helps you to progress, keeps you on track, and helps you achieve your goals, whatever those may be.


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nitewriter
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Personally, I go with the minimum wordage a day. Sometimes you get the minimum relatively quickly, when the words flow as fast as you can put them out - sometimes you sweat blood getting it down. Of course, when some harried editor calls and says he needs you to write bla bla bla and oh, by the way, can you get it to him in a week - the regular schedule goes to Hell while you hammer out the requested copy in the given time. Luckily, an editor needing copy in a short time does not happen very much. To me, cranking out 500 words a day (or more on a good day) does not seem imtimidating. It seems, and is, very doable. But if I sat there thinking of writing the whole story, or a book size ms. - then yes, it's very easy to back off and find a reason not to do anything at all.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm with Balthasar on the idea of people who absolutely HAVE to write.

There may be some out there. I don't know.

All I do know is that for me:

quote:
I write because I like stories. I write because I like to craft sentences and paragraphs. I write because I love the English language. I write because I like to make up stories.


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darklight
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Me too.

I fell in love with words at a young age - about the same time I fell in love with music. I was the kid that would go out of my way to look up the meaning of a word I had never heard of in a song and from there, I just knew I wanted to write.


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