FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Monday, March 12, 2012

On Revising Well or “Taking the ax to your work” or “Getting the words right”

On Revising Well or “Taking the ax to your work”[1] or “Getting the words right”[2]

“For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty [awful] first drafts.”
- author Anne Lamott

“Have the courage to write badly.”
-  author Josh Shenk

“I have never thought of myself as a good writer. But I’m one of the world’s great rewriters.”
-author James A. Michener

“Books aren’t written- they’re rewritten.  It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.” 
- author Michael Crichton

Why do we revise?
      In an interview with the “Paris Review,” Hemingway responded to a question about the concluding page in Farewell to Arms as follows: “I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”  When further questioned as to the problem that led to the plethora of revisions, he responded, “Getting the words right.”[3]

On peer editing or, if T.S. Eliot can cut back, so can you:
      When T.S. Eliot asked Ezra pound to edit a draft he was working on for a poem called “The Wasteland,” she had this to write on the first page:  “Too loose [. . .] rhyme drags it out to diffuseness.”  At another part of the poem she commented, “Verse not interesting enough as verse to warrant so much of it.”[4]

On Perseverance:
James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake went through 16 drafts![5]

Create your system/checklist

-  Create your own checklist.  What are your problem areas?  What are the mistakes you commonly make?

-  Better yet, steal and / or revise someone else’s checklist!

FUUO Checklist:

1.  Print out that really, really, really, really, really awful first draft. 

2.  Let it sit for an hour or two—better yet a day or two. 

3.  Read through your paper with a pen in hand; make obvious corrections.

4.  “Block” your paper.  This means creating a quick outline with sticky notes or just drawing blocks on a piece of paper.  Try to capture the point of each paragraph with a sentence at the most. 
            a.  Does the order of the blocks make sense logically?
            b.  Do the blocks flow smoothly from one to another?  Are any missing transition             sentences to link them together? 

5.  Make corrections from step 3 on your computer.  Make any additions or changes from step 4. 

6.  Have your spouse / peer / friend read your paper.  Encourage them to be ruthless. 

7.  Make corrections as necessary.

8.  Command (or Ctrl) +f. 

9.  Print out paper.  Have a drink.

10.  Read your paper, checking for material / sentences / ideas that are not footnoted.  Circle them.

11.  Find the proper sources for material that you failed to cite.

12. “Ibidize” your paper.  Check footnotes against bibliography and vice versa.

13.  Print your paper; have a drink; read through one last time.

Command + f Appendix:

The fact that / In the event that / For the reason that / In order to / By means of

That (can the sentence stand without it?) (use with essential info)
Which (use with non-essential info; could often be in parentheses) (descriptive)

This (at beginning of the sentence when subject wasn’t just mentioned at the end of the previous sentence)

Not (make it the positive version)
none (S&W p. 10)

Would, Should, Could, May, Might, Can (do these weaken my paper?)
Rather, Very, Little, Pretty, quite (do these weaken my paper?)

Who is, Which was
Who (subject-he)
Whom (object-him)
I, me, my, we, us, our (strike these from my paper)

‘ (no contractions! )

one of (normally should have a plural verb)
ion (watch out for these when a verb could be used instead)
it (am I overusing it)

Names/places (am I using the same name too often?  Ex: LBJ/Johnson/the president/he)

and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet (coordinating conjunctions)—need comma
however, therefore (coordinating adverb)—need semicolon

By/was/were (passive)

( (Overuse of parentheses for other than acronyms—replace with two commas)

Parallelism (and/or lists)

  Only ignorant and lazy writers believe their first effort to be their final one.  Revision is the opportunity for writers to read through their work and make necessary corrections.   During this process, authors ferret out derelict passive phrases and inspect each sentence for variety in length and structure.  At this point, the best writers put down their papers and walk away, for at least an hour or two, or, better yet, a day or more.   This distance and time allow writers to return to their work with a fresh eye, providing them better context in which to edit their work.  Key to all of these elements is time.  The polish of a superior paper reflects the lengthy and dedicated process of revision and correction.  While writing well is a difficult endeavor, reading should not be.

*FUUO owes a debt of gratitude to the professor of his writing course for her excellent handbook; I adapted several parts of my own checklist from her excellent material.  

[1] Frank Kersnowski and Alice Hughes, ed., Conversations with Henry Miller (University Press of Mississippi, 1994), 86.

[2] David Calonne, “Creative Writers and Revision,” Revision: History, Theory and Practice, The WAC Clearinghouse, accessed March 5, 2012, http://wac.colostate
.edu/books/horning_revision/chapter9.pdf, 149.

[3] Ibid., 149.

[4] Ibid., 164.

[5] Ibid., 167.  

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