Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Your writing voice isn't always right the first time. So, revise

Novelist Allegra Goodman (who, I discovered, has a lot of writing advice/tips on her blog) wrote about revising in a Wall Street Journal guest column. She talks about figuring out, as a young writer, the power of revising  your own work.Naturally she's approaching it as a fiction writer, but if you replace "fiction" with "nonfiction," what she says applies to what we do (and I think the last graf here really hits home...it's why so many people write leads based on advertising slogans and think they're being clever):

"Starting with inspiration and some talent, you could work to be a writer. You could keep revising, and improve.

"Why was this idea so surprising and liberating for me? Like many literary teenagers, I believed that art was a matter of instinct—that the artist's first impulse is the most authentic, that revision is something you do to essays but hardly applies to poetry or fiction. I pictured revision as drudge work, spoiling all that was fresh and original. But what if revision actually improved ideas?  ...

"...We grow up hearing that we should just be ourselves, and listen to our inner voices. But what if your authentic self won't shut up? What if your inner voice is boring? In revision you cut excess verbiage. Revising, you can experiment with other voices.

"It's great to tap into your unconscious, but remember how impressionable the unconscious can be, how quick to absorb the tropes of television and romance and life-affirming or cautionary memoir. Revision means testing and questioning conventions, forging a path through the cultural clutter that we mistake for our own creativity."