Day 8: Movin' Right Along

Yesterday's whittling project went well, despite major (extremely pleasant) interruptions like lunch with a good friend, out-running a major thunderstorm to get to the lunch (successfully), and dinner with our best friends just about when I started to hit my evening stride. (I'm sure I would have crapped out pretty soon anyway.)

Helen commented (Thanks!) that she hated revising because it was so hard to throw away all of those words that took such blood and sweat to produce. I totally agree. A few weeks ago, a friend and I were having a conversation about how hard revising is for just those reasons. He quoted Steven King, who apparently said somewhere that "revising is like killing your babies." Or something to that effect. That is definitely how it feels. It took me 2 years to write this darn stuff, and now I'm just going to throw it away? Huh? Why on earth would I do that? Ok, so maybe it is... well, not the prettiest baby. Nor the smartest baby, and yes, ok, I am so ashamed of it I refuse to show it to anyone, but it's MY baby. Mine.

Until yesterday, I dealt with this problem in 2 ways. First strategy: Not revising. It seemed to work pretty well, I mean, it got me this far, didn't it? I could hammer out a pretty darn good 5 page paper, a fairly good 10 page paper, and a passable 30 page paper without doing major revisions. Then, came the 300 page monster. Uh oh. Somehow, not able to just toss it out onto the page(s) without doing some serious rethinking of parts. The other way I dealt with this was to ALWAYS open another file, call it a "junk" file, and then just cut and paste whatever I was getting rid of into that file. That way if I decided later I needed those discarded pearls of wisdom, I would always have them forever and ever.

But suddenly yesterday, something came over me. Maybe it was because I realized that never in 10 years of grad school had I gone back to those "junk" files. Not once did I look back at them and say, wow, that stuff was great, why don't I just turn it into something stunningly brilliant all on its own? Nor did I ever go back to them and add stuff back into the regular file from the already junked material. So, yesterday, I started using the delete key. It was a bit of a minor revolution.
And pretty darn cathartic. Strange, awkward sentence with far too many prepositions that merely repeats the idea of the previous sentence? Gone, baby, gleefully gone. Zap, just like that, and then no one ever has to see how truly awful a writer you actually were. In fact, now that I think about it I better quick go and delete all those "junk" files in case I get hit by a bus on the way home and everyone finds them when they're going through my stuff after the funeral and sees that I was not actually that good of a writer. (Another thing grad students worry about -- being caught out as the fraud they know they are).

So today, I will finish up revising that section. Delete! Delete! Ha, ha, ha! And then I need to sort through some evidence for the next section, and hopefully get going on writing it. My Friday deadline is looming large. I'm not sure I'm going to make it, but I'm sure as hell going to try.


At 12:26 PM Boo said...

Congratulations! The baby-killing analogy makes such congrats a little problematic, though. How about weeding? Or cutting your hair? Surely there must be something equally painfull, but less troubling and psychotic. Ripping off a band-aid? Pulling teeth maybe? An appendectomy? Ha - that's it! It's bloody, painfull, and it removes something that was there from the beginning but that you didn't really need.

At 1:17 PM Suz said...

Weed out the doubt! It is an hungry energy hog. You are going to make it. Go for good enough, not perfect, please. And then go celebrate Friday night.

Since I followed your whittling advice yesterday, I think I will go for the delete today. Thanks for the tips.

At 2:07 PM Stewgad said...

Boo -
Hey, I didn't make it up, I'm only repeating what I heard.

And, yes, there is clearly a Reason why I don't read the man's novels.

But, I do think the depth of feeling behind the process, especially at first, just isn't covered by weeding, or haircutting (For most people at least. For she who has been grousing incessantly to all my friends, as well as Spousal Unit, about a haircut for six weeks now, maybe not.)

I do like the appendectomy idea. Maybe revision is like performing a SELF- appendectomy. Yeah, gruesome, disgusting, and only happens if you're on a desert island somewhere and there's nobody else, let alone George Clooney and Anthony Edwards there to help you out with it. (Ok, so the last time I really watched a Doctor show was a decade ago...). We dissertators definitely believe ourselves to be in a metaphorical desert island most of the time...

At 9:36 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

I had a creative writing prof in college who told us to be willing to kill off our babies, too (he probably ripped it off from Steven King...). I actually love revising and have learned to love stripping down all my prose, but that's partly because my initial writing is such crap, it's a pleasure to see it improve. FWIW, I told my undergrads to be willing to kill off their babies, and they thought that was hysterical advice.

(Um, hi, I found your blog via Sappho's Breathing. I like seeing what you're getting done.)

At 12:12 PM Stewgad said...

Welcome New Kid! Thanks for stopping by! Count yourself the third non-related person to comment on my blog! I think the first ten people to comment who don't actually know me or didn't raise me should get some kind of prize. Maybe I'll make a category on the sidebar. :) I had read your blog a number of times before, so I'm feeling flattered to see ya!

I hadn't ever thought to use the killing babies advice with the undergrads -- it seemed so horrifying and gruesome -- oh wait, right up their alley!

I think I've just never been confident that the second go round was much better than the first time until now. Not that my first drafts were so great, I just didn't think that the second drafts were all that hot either. But, this time, I'm really getting into the process.

Again, thanks checking in. I'll add your blog to the links, if you don't mind.

At 7:51 PM New Kid on the Hallway said...

No prob - links are cool!


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