If you have a writing practice which begins with a quickly written and almost inevitably loose first draft, then you need a range of strategies that you can call on to beat the text into shape. And even if you start your writing by planning, you’ll undoubtedly write something at some point which just doesn’t work as you thought it would.
It’s time for revision.
There are some obvious approaches to revising a very crappy first draft – perhaps (re)writing an abstract or outline now that you know better what to say and using it as a road map for some cut and paste work. Perhaps using Rachel Cayley’s approach to reverse outlining.
However, you may well find yourself stuck. At the end of the first draft you can’t quite see how to kick off the revising process. You have words. All. The. Words. But they don’t seem amenable to being moved around. They resist your interventions.
If this is you, then it might be time for a bit of radical re-visioning. You need to see your text in a different light.
Here are seven playful strategies to get you into the spirit of re-vision. They require you to move things around to see where and how the rewriting needs to happen. They are intended to disrupt the ways in which you have already thought about your topic. They distance you from your text.
The seven strategies are from Kristen Iversen’s book Shadow Boxing. Art and craft in creative non-fiction. Iversen describes these strategies as ways to ‘trick your rational mind’. She advocates exercises which ‘help remove, at least temporarily, the emotional attachment you may feel to a particular piece of writing’. While Iversen’s strategies were written for creative non–fiction writers, they also work for scholarly writing – they can spark off new insights about the argument you want to make.
Seven playful and creative strategies for re-vision. Seeing anew. As Iversen urges, ‘Learn to love revision, not to fight it. Keep yourself open to creative possibilities.’
Iversen’s creative strategies for re-vision
- Find the best line you have written. Use it as the beginning sentence of the new paper.
- Remove the first paragraph and start from the second.
- Remove the first page and start from the second.
- Take the last paragraph and use it as your starter.
- Find your best paragraph and start the piece there.
- Throw the pages in the air to form a new order. Use this to make a new outline.
- Cut the first three pages into paragraphs. Turn them over, face down so you can only see the blank sides. Arrange them in a new and random order. Turn them over so that you can read them again. What do you see? What new sense has been made and where?
(Adapted from Iversen, 2004, pp 171-172)
If you’re stuck with nowhere to go with your first draft, it may be a very good idea to tear yourself away from the staring at the screen. Try out a couple of these more creative and radical re-visioning strategies and see what you can see.
You may like to check out Iversen’s book in your university library. You may like to also check out a collection of patter posts on revising and editing.
Image credit,: Mongoose Flemmish, Flickr Commons
Dear Pat: I haven’t read Iversen’s work, but this post could have been written by someone looking over my shoulder. I’m in the throes of the 2nd – or even 3rd? – revision, and any writing I do tend to adopt points 1 to 4, anyway ~ although not all the same time. But I have also discovered that, in many respects, ‘less is more.’ Out go spurious chunks, written (I suspect) as make-weights. Out goes many a felicitous adjectival clause. …
In comes clarification, even simplification – very necessary, when even *I* don’t know what I was trying to say!
In comes a search and find exercise, to trace repetitions, or near-repetitions.
Trans-positioning a paragraph requires concentration. Don’t forget to erase it from its original position, as I found I’d neglected to do once or twice. Plus, comb the whole chapter or whatever, to make sure the tense and context makes sense, and refs and footnotes marry up. A lonely little ‘ibid,’ all by itself, with nothing to hang on, won’t impress beady-eyed examiners.
I’m not brave enough to do a random toss in the air, but this stage of the thesis is actually quite fun (for a change). The hard part’s done: the words are written. Too many of them. But at least one has something concrete to work with, and *on*.
Besides, tightening-up a narrative, fiction or non-fiction, never does it any harm. It’s better made succinct and to the point.
Clarity is all …
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