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