Monday, September 8, 2008

faulty synonyms

I gave my students an interesting assignment for homework this weekend: unless inspiration strikes, don't work on your drafts. They were thrilled, of course, albeit for different reasons than I would've liked. I wanted them to revisit them w/ fresh eyes on Monday. To see what happened if they let thinking become part of the drafting process.

It's hard to convey to a student that "first draft" and "final draft" are not synonymous. It was a mistake that I had made up until my late twenties, I believe, because no one told me otherwise. Sure, I edited (who doesn't?); but revise? I didn't get it. It either flowed out of you or it didn't. It took my becoming a writing teacher to learn about writing, really. Moreso, to learn about drafting and revision. And it took a rookie year as a TA for me to realize that "teacher" and "editor" were also not synonymous.

Anne Lamott calls first drafts "shitty first drafts" and I sometimes use the phrase myself, moreso w/ my own drafts than my students' (if I use the term in class, I use it generically and as a form of permission as opposed to a value). There seems to be, on some faces, a look of genuine relief, while on others, a feeling of betrayal. "If that's the case, then how come nobody told me?" they ask. One student even asked me the purpose of the SAT "timed writing" component, where revision is not in the equation. I'll not make this a post about *that* discussion, but let's just say I was thrilled that they gave it consideration.

When it comes to my own writing, however, what I sometimes struggle w/ is getting beyond that first draft. For one thing, sometimes a first draft is good. Really good, and needs very little revision or editing. Other times, it's a train wreck, and it's the train wrecks that send me spiraling into writer's block. It's happening now w/ my nonfiction book. And, interestingly enough, it's the drafts of the narratives, the memoirs, those pieces of creative nonfiction that I am supposedly so good at and teach so well, that are in the worst condition. And the revisions ain't so hot either. I wonder, is it because I have higher expectations for their quality, or am I trying too hard, my latent perfectionism kicking in? (Oh, wait, I think that's blatent perfectionism...)

Now, here's another rhetorical situation to ponder. My blogposts are predominantly first drafts w/ a bit of hasty editing here and there. And yet, I like blogposts to be a bit more stream of consciousness, a bit less refined. But I can't help wonder what a reader who happened to stumble on my blog would think. Would they judge the lack of refinement? Would they think I need to learn the craft of revision (or just proofread, dammit!), or is it an understanding that most blogs follow this rather informal, unrefined style? And do they really, or are most blogs so well-written that informality is mistaken w/ unrefined (yet another botched synonym)?

Something to think about, I suppose.


mamie said...

When I first started sharing my writing with others who edited it, I was always shocked by all the marks on my beautiful creation! How dare they? But after taking the advice offered, I found that my work was even more powerful. Yep, it takes courage to admit that one's writing can be made better by revision.

As for blogs, I edit them too. But only so much. Plus, nobody marks on my blog writing....

The Purple Panda said...

Yes, editing by others can be quite daunting. And thank goodness there isn't a "peer review" feature on blogs!!

MitMoi said...

Mamie is very forgiving of undisciplined punctuation ... or rambunctious sentence structure ...

And I echo the "Thank Goodness no one can mark up" a blog. After the first person got done, no one would be able to read the original post from under the corrections!