This 34 message thread spans 3 pages: < < 1 3 > >
I hope they made suggestions about the rewrite.
Every time I write anything I assume it's going to need to be rewritten 10 times over. But I never really know exactly what might need to be change.
Getting a better idea now of where I fall down but suspect I'm always going to need another pair of eyes looking over what I write.
This refusal to accept that your MS needs rewriting is the thing that amazes me most about other aspiring writers. i don't think I'm ever going to understand the reluctance. Ever.
I work in TV. It is normal to edit several versions of the programme you are making. No one would ever edit once and leave it at that. You also have to deal with people coming in and completely restructring what you've done to satisfy a new creative bod further up the food chain. You learn to get over yourself and put your shoulder to the wheel. You get exasperated but you do it
yes there have been times when I've been forced to re-edit something and it is worse in the end - not often though.
Am I off-topic?sorry...
|This refusal to accept that your MS needs rewriting is the thing that amazes me most about other aspiring writers. i don't think I'm ever going to understand the reluctance. Ever. |
Not off-topic Annette.
I'm not a psychologist, and it baffles me too. I'm sure painters, sculptors, actors, serious musicians and composers, in fact anyone involved in the creative arts would not, out of personal pride in their work, allow first / unedited thoughts to go out to the general public.
Why not learner-writers? Where is their shame?
Is it simply that no one tells them how bad they are?
Yes, that particular critique (Debi Alper - I want to give her credit) was long and involved and put me on the rails.
|This refusal to accept that your MS needs rewriting is the thing that amazes me most about other aspiring writers. |
I think the thing is that nothing in education teaches this process. At the best, as you get further up school and at university the general tenor is that yes, you learn to do a bit of planning beforehand, and yes, you should go through checking for spelling mistakes at the end. But in essence, the underlying, unquestioned assumption is that your "first draft" is your first go at your final draft: essentially, re-writing at school is associated with "getting it wrong": with you having to re-do what you "should" have got right in the first place. True, in the days before PCs that would have meant "copying out fair" ... But the idea of your first draft being essentially an opening position - a monster brain-storm - a way of discovering what you do think - a zero draft ... and subsequent drafts being a process of getting closer and closer to "right" is a completely different way of thinking of it.
This has become much clearer to me since I've been dealing with academic writing for the RLF. One of my colleagues says her best "teaching aid" came about by accident - she had a free period, and got on with a bit of her own work on hard copy. And the next student came in and saw this MS covered from top to bottom in edits, and said, "What's that?". She explained that it was her own writing, and the student said, "What, you mean even professionals have to change things?"
And I know from my own experience of that work that it's a huge relief to them to know that "getting it wrong" first isn't their failure or incompetence, it's a fundamental part of the process.
So I guess it's hardly surprising if most aspiring writers, at the beginning, haven't realised that either. The "microscope" stage of the self-editing course I teach is a revelation to many of the students, even though you have to be quite keen and committed to cough up for that course, so they're not total newbies.<Added>
Alan - I co-teach the self-edit course with Debi - and we're neighbours, as it happened.. Good to know her report, however painful, was useful.<Added>
I think the other thing is that the distance you have to learn to cultivate, to read your stuff as others read it, isn't obvious either. That's where learning in workshops and stuff is more effective than learning from how-to books (there are other advantages to the latter) because it's by dealing with others' writing that you first learn to focus your gaze at that level. It comes later to do that on your own work. (and of course in the end you never can, completely)
One other thought - writing prose, and poetry, is SOOOO uncollaborative, compared to stage/TV etc. But it's also something that many more people have the basic skills, compared to painting/music etc. Most people who want to do the latter are aware that there are skills to be learnt, so they take a course, and along with those skills they also learn about the re-working process. But with writing non-drama, it's not nearly so obvious.
The first time I got A+ for an essay when I was doing my A levels was after I had re-written it. Gawd knows what made me do that because as you say Emma, education doesn't teach this. And I remember going home on the bus, I even remember where I sat and the view, and I had a mini-epiphany, I realised that if I wanted to do well, be successful, I was going to have to work at it to get another A+.
In other words I accidentally stumbled across the secret to success - that's what I told myself it was. Hard work.
The other thing... this always annoys me and I don't know who said it or where it comes from but I've always heard this literary myth that shakespeare never crossed out a word, in other words didn't rewrite. This has to be utter tosh!
Bill you can haunt me anytime if only to tell me this isn't true.
I don't see how we can possibly know whether Shakespeare ever crossed out a word, seeing as we've got no manuscripts of his.
It's all part of the 18/19th century Romantic myth-making of the solitary genius, preferably taking dictation from On High, as it were. I wonder if, to the Romantic mind, there's something grubby and Grub-Street-ish of the idea of us hacking away, as it were... Or is it simply that it needs to think of the act of creation as an immaculate conception, as it were?
I do think that writers vary in where the first-draft comes in their process, though. Some use words-on-paper right from the beginning. Was it Pascal who said, "Give me a pen, I need to think"? Whereas for others the creative work goes on much more in the head, or on scraps of paper they don't keep, and the manuscript. It's the Beethoven-Mozart spectrum, if you like.
|The first time I got A+ for an essay when I was doing my A levels was after I had re-written it.|
And, actually, with the whole coursework setup, they are getting the idea more now: my children totally get the idea that you give a teacher your best effort at a draft, and the teacher gives you advice, and then you re-write it. And they know that it will get better not just at the points where the teacher said (because the teachers are quite limited in what they're allowed to say), but also in general.
|I think the thing is that nothing in education teaches this process. |
Assuming the desire-to-get-it-right needs to be taught, I wonder if it is some underlying aspect of education that has always been present? Or if it is something that has come about in recent times. The Blairite mantra of 'Education, education, education ... and no one must ever fail' springs to mind.
I recall my own schooldays. Success and failure were quite distinct then, and failure was often punished.
I would hazard a guess that the majority of the self-pubbed learners haven't yet reached their forties and are thus in-tune with the 5-second attention spam thing.
Perhaps they do accept their writing is crap, but think it doesn't matter because another load of crap will be along in a week or two. Critiques are thus irrelevant.
I don't know. Really. I'm an old fogey who cares about quality.
Wrong, but right.
Alan, I didn't say that the desire to get it right needs to be taught - of course it's inherent. It's an evolutionary imperative, apart from anything else. Get it wrong about which stripey beast has big enough teeth to eat you, and you're in a bit of trouble.
What I said was that what isn't taught in school is that the process includes "getting it wrong" first: re-writing: that changing things later in the work isn't a sign of failure or incompetence.
I had a super-bright PhD student in my RLF room the other day, and I was demonstrating how a paragraph would work better in a different order. She got in a terrible, apologetic fluster about having got it wrong, so I explained that "getting it wrong" is a necessary part of the journey towards getting it right. This was total
news to her. I don't know if it's relevant that she was from Japan, where there does seem to be a much more ruthless culture of correctness and lack of mistakes, as opposed to something messier and eventually more fruitful. As Grayson Perry has cast into the beam of his studio: Creativity is mistakes. And academic work is, of course, profoundly creative.
Though you do have to teach what "right" looks like in any subject, obviously. But one of the HUGE improvements in education between mine and my children's has been a recognition that there's more than one kind of right in just about any subject. The narrow-mindedness of "traditional" education is breathtaking when you look back at it now. Even maths, above a simple level, has more than one right way of doing most things, but you wouldn't think it to talk to older people. Partly, of course, because it's quicker to correct things than to set out a properly nuanced explanation of the possibilities.
I, too, had an epiphanic 6th Form moment: the essay was to discuss the influence of Japanese popular prints on an Impressionist painter of our choice, and I chose CÚzanne, and was quite pleased with the result. (Not sure that I re-wrote it from scratch, mind you
) And my Art History teacher said that it was well-known that CÚzanne was the only Impressionist totally uninfluenced by Japanese prints. A lesser teacher would have just given me a bad mark, but she read the essay, commented on the detail, and said that I'd persuaded her with evidence and argument that I was right. I still think I am, as it happens - no idea if the rest of the Art Historical establishment has come round to my way of thinking
Doesn't mean there's no kind of wrong. As the great historian Herbert Butterfield said, just because there are a million possible views of a mountain doesn't mean that no view is true, nor that all views are true. But that's much harder to teach than crossing things out in red pen.
But saying that there's one kind of true/right/correct is as stupid and narrow-minded as saying there's no kind of un-true.
|She got in a terrible, apologetic fluster about having got it wrong, |
I can imagine that. A Japanese person would be affected by 'face', and if part of a group could have felt humiliated. If not, she might have been over-awed by you.
Yes, I take your point about 'getting-it-wrong'.
I do, however, believe the evolutionary imperative is not a straightforward thing and cannot be taken for granted. The will to get-it-right does not burn brightly in everyone. Nor the will to simply survive.
I live amongst people to whom self-preservation is an option.
Examples: People extend their homes and garden onto a busy road. They sit and stand there while trucks zoom past, inches away. Do they move? No. You sound your horn - they ignore you. You have to drive around them. Men, women, and children.
Yes, they put their lives in your hands. Happens every day to this stripey beast.
Do I understand it? I'm just boggled by it.
|Assuming the desire-to-get-it-right needs to be taught, I wonder if it is some underlying aspect of education that has always been present? Or if it is something that has come about in recent times. |
If you think about it, until relatively recently the British education system has been built around exams - you do all your thinking and exploring in advance and then you're faced with unseen questions and you have one chance to 'get it right' - no rewrites allowed.
The more recent system built rewriting into the system: children knew what the question was and would do multiple approaches in which they would critique each other's work in class, plus the teacher would also have an input before they finally sit the exam.
I'm not sure this was based on a desire that no-one should fail (because people do fail) so much as a sense that your first go at something isn't necessarily your best work. However, this approach is now being scrapped and we are returning to the 'one-shot' exam system which we probably remember from our own 'o' levels.
I'm convinced that part of the reason why inexperienced writers sometimes react badly to criticism is that a piece of writing is the only art form that doesn't really exist as a physical thing. It's all in the mind. (Music could be said to be the same, but actually it does exist - there is an external, objective sound) . For all writers, there are the words on the page, and then there is the story, still in our heads, that we wanted to tell. For inexperienced writers, the story in their heads seems wonderful - interesting and moving, and all the rest of it. When they look at their work, they see the story in their heads, not the story they have actually written. They react badly because they perceive their work as being very, very much better than it actually is.
|I'm not sure this was based on a desire that no-one should fail (because people do fail) so much as a sense that your first go at something isn't necessarily your best work. However, this approach is now being scrapped and we are returning to the 'one-shot' exam system which we probably remember from our own 'o' levels.|
Yes, exactly - one-shot systems may be slightly more cheat-proof, but it's a great deal less genuinely close to how good thinking works, and disadvantages genuinely clever and hard-working people whose brains aren't wired for sudden death stuff. As a very senior historian said to me a few years ago, to get a First in an exam-based system you need a very good memory and very fast handwriting...
One kind of exam my children and some of my RLF students have done which seems to me to work well is that they know the essay question in advance, and do as much thinking and planning and understanding as they like, but can't take notes in. In another, they can take in notes and/or the marked-up set text, but still, they have to turn all that into a properly connected-up arguement in the exam room. In the old days, when people learnt swathes of stuff by rote, I guess the worry would be that someone would learn the whole of someone else's essay by heart, and just write it out. But learning that much by heart is beyond imagining for anyone, these days, so one very old form of cheating has perhaps died...
|One kind of exam my children and some of my RLF students have done which seems to me to work well is that they know the essay question in advance, and do as much thinking and planning and understanding as they like, but can't take notes in|
Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking of. It encourages people to think a bit deeper than their original thoughts.<Added>
|For inexperienced writers, the story in their heads seems wonderful - interesting and moving, and all the rest of it. When they look at their work, they see the story in their heads, not the story they have actually written.|
That's an interesting point, Catkin. Certainly, the hideous gap between the vision and the reality is one of the hardest things about writing, but I think I always felt like that, and of course, that's why so many of us have to write and rewrite, always trying to close that gap.
|When they look at their work, they see the story in their heads, not the story they have actually written.|
Yes, exactly. And it's a gradual process (ways to get distance, reading-like-a-writer, workshopping) by which you learn to see where you haven't actually told it.
It's also why the best definition I know of what an editor will do for your work is that she will help you to write the story you thought
you'd already written. If you like, learning to write is partly a process of your editor-brain getting better and better at separating from your writer-brain.
It's also why the best definition I know of what an editor will do for your work is that she will help you to write the story you thought you'd already written. If you like, learning to write is partly a process of your editor-brain getting better and better at separating from your writer-brain.
This is what I yearn for indulgently, finding someone who can help me write the rest of the story that remains in my head that I think is there but in fact isn't.
Am I cutting and pasting right? It never looks the way it does when everyone else does it?
This 34 message thread spans 3 pages: < < 1 3 > >
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