Writing- Keep Calm and Carry on Revising

Every year for the holiday weekend in May, I go with my family to Millport in Greater Cumbrae, an island in the Firth of Clyde. I always look forward to the seaside trip for a change of scenery and to switch off for a couple of days. This year, the timing of the break was perfect as it marked the end of classes on my MLitt course and was a chance to relax after a busy few weeks. It also gave me time to stop and think about revising my WIP.

Our pup, Max, posing for a photo on his first trip to Millport

The theme for my final week at uni seemed to be ‘revision’ and left me with a lot to think about before I start work on my dissertation (20k words of my WIP).  I went to an event with Royal Literary Fellows, Eleanor Updale and Linda Cracknell and the Charles Wallace Fellow from India, Nabina Das. After reading their work, the three writers were invited to share their tips on the process of revision.

Nabina advised that the simplest and most effective way to revise your writing is to read it aloud and this will instantly alert you to clunky word choice. Linda takes lots of notes and experiments with ideas before she writes a draft and can spend months revising a short story before she begins to edit her work. She also said that if she can’t write a haiku based on the concept of the story, then she knows that she needs to keep revising until the idea works. Eleanor’s advice was not to expect a first draft to work without requiring revision as every piece of writing can be made better and to prepare yourself for the long haul. Eleanor’s thinking mirrored this snippet from an interview with Ernest Hemmingway in 1956 in The Paris Review.

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Last week was also the final time my writing was ripped apart discussed at a workshop and it would seem that I have a lot of work to do on “Getting the words right”.  Luckily, I’ve grown a thick skin over the two semesters and can just about cope with the criticism (although it still hurts a wee bit). All I need to do now is to psyche myself up for the prospect of changing the entire structure of my WIP, examining the point of views, altering key events and reimagining the main characters.  Simple! Hmm, maybe not. See you sometime next year…

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