Creative Writing 101

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And maybe these thoughts are interrupted by a girl in the next row loudly cracking her gum and blathering into her cellphone about some problem she’s having with her boyfriend. The other part of revision—the main part, I would argue—is cutting, or revising down. The biggest problem many beginning writers (hell, many established writers) have is saying far too much—usually because they’re worried about saying too little.

But the reader is a very perceptive creature, loyal as any good dog, and once you’ve earned his trust he will generally stick by your side, and pay attention to what you are telling him.

So you write and you write, and you wind up with—something. Any good writer has a file somewhere filled with all their abandoned and aborted first drafts—all the stuff that seemed like it was worth attempting but then later turned out to not be.

A mess, probably, but maybe one with some genuine promise. If the writer doesn’t have this, it’s either because (1) s/he is a heaven-sent Genius, (2) s/he is a hack with no self-editing skills and no sense, or else (3) s/he burned the file up in an oil drum by the highway and scattered the ashes in the sea, like you’re supposed to. You’ve got this piece, and you think it’s pretty good, or anyway you think it could be pretty good. The first thing you want to do is re-read what you’ve written.

The second part outlines two basic principles of editing–adding stuff, taking stuff away–and the advantages of reading your work aloud and editing by ear.

The whole thing demonstrates a clear bias towards realist prose fiction–especially in its examples–but the attempt was made to be inclusive, and most of these notions should be adaptable for use by anyone.As such, even a very important detail need not be repeated over and over.There’s no hard and fast rule about this (or about anything when it comes to writing) and sometimes, of course, the repetition itself is the point, but generally speaking, if the writer repeats something once or twice, its importance is going to be established in the reader’s mind., the nature of the class shifted and we went into workshop mode.Since we’re now reading student work and not publicly available work, it doesn’t leave me with a whole lot to share.We hope, of course, to be inspired—or at any rate, interested—in this work while we’re doing it, but even if we’re not, we know it needs to be done anyway.Irrespective of whether you are writing because the spirit moved you or because you’re under some gun, the first draft is a kind of flying blind.Revising Up, Revising Down At the most basic level, there are only two ways to revise something. (Or you can spend all day moving commas around, but that’s a whole other thing.) If you’re adding, the main concerns are what to add, and where.If you’re writing prose, especially prose fiction, you might be looking for opportunities to add detail, to the emotional state of a character, or the physical details of the world of the story, or wherever else it seems relevant and useful.Most likely, it won’t be a question of better and worse at all. Very often, the thing you initially sat down to write about will have been eclipsed during the writing process by something else that caught your attention. That last one is especially important, because it’s going to govern what happens next.So maybe the first revision questions to ask yourself are: What do I think this piece is about? Maybe the thing that side-tracked you is much more interesting than your original thought, which is why you pursued it when you were writing.


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