Revision, Start Learning to Love It

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“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written”

Eudora Welty

Anyone can write. Few revise well. Revision is essential. It is much more than spell-check and grammar adjustments. Revision is ensuring the story you are telling is clear. Rarely is misinterpretation the mistake of a reader. The job of writers is to ensure readers do not do any heavy lifting. Any skewed reading, comes from bad writing. How does the writer ensure the message they are conveying is interpreted clearly? You guessed it; revision. No one sits down and writes a novel by the seat of their pants in one long first and final draft. If they do, the writing will be garbage, regardless of talent. I would not count on being the exception.

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The Day god Died: Chapters I & II

“…I hated him and his kind. I hated his affluence, his expensive clothes, his chiseled looks, and the arrogance he was born too. But most of all, I hated the power he held over me, his assumption of authority, and the truth of his superiority.”

Revision is where the real magic happens.

Starting over sucks. I dread it. All who write dread it. My stomach turns at the thought. But understand this, the rewards of revising will outweigh the pains. You will be shocked. Learn to enjoy the process. Here are some questions you can ask about your work:

  • Why should my reader turn the first page to the second? Does the first sentence, paragraph, page introduce tension? If not, red alarm.
  • Is there unnecessary summary? Cut. Cut. Cut! I too often have the impulse to cover too much ground. It destroys energy and I find, I tell more than show. This is a bad thing. The whole premise of writing prose, is to show not tell. A concept I will elaborate on with a later post.
  • Is it original? Stereotypes are lazy. A good writer will extract any cliches and make a point to show the exact and honest.
  • Is it clear? Ambiguity and mystery are one of the pleasures of literature. But there is a fine line between mystery and sloppiness. I love characters rich with contradictions. That is the human condition. But I often have to start off with a more simple reality. Then I can build out the imaginative. Have your character answer these: Where are we? When are we? Who are they? How do things look? What time of day or night is it? Weather? What is happening? On how to create captivating characters, check out: Create Captivating Characters
  • Is it self-conscious? Just tell the story. Your style will follow of itself. But you have to just tell the story. If you get carried away dressing your prose with all your wit and insight, there is a good chance you are having more fun writing that the reader will have reading. Good writing is easy reading! Just tell the story.
  • Where is it too long? In fiction, you want sharpness, economy, and vivid details in telling. With every sentence, say what you mean to say and get out. Hit it and quit it. Use the fewest possible words. What does this look like? My advice, read the poets. Trust me, the poets will teach you everything.
  • Are there too many scenes? Try and tell your story with the fewest possible scenes. It is tempting to give each turn of plot or change of setting a new scene when fusing several together would proffer better effect.
  • Where is it too general? Look for general and vague terms. Write instead a particular thing, an exact size and degree. In fact, my short tip, cut the words very and really out of your work entirely. You are welcome!

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I’m starting 2022 intending to grow. Help me grow as an artist and influencer and follow.

Revision, revision, revision. Originality, economy, and clarity all come from thorough revision. These questions are just the start and short of taking a creative writing class, they will serve you well.

Remember in fiction, the goal is to show characters doing things. Never tell what you mean. I promise if the prose is clear and concise, the reader will not misinterpret. You write for the reader. If you forget that, you have lost your way.

A Rambling Treatise on The Craft

Originally, I submitted for class discussion introductions, and I thought I’d like to have this on my blog too.

            Fiction is devoted to exploring the complex drama of human experiences. The writer’s canvas is the human psyche, and we, the wordsmiths—creative writers, microscope the human condition; our job, first-and-foremost, is probing the everyday reality of human situations, regardless of how weird or superfluous, or sad, or hilarious, or frightening. I write to touch my readers’ hearts by writing truth.

            My process is simple: I wrestle, before coffee, every morning to deposit onto the page, at a minimum, six-hundred words of prose, and, at some point in the day, I read fiction for a minimum of an hour a day—I do this five days a week. Creativity, I believe, is a muscle, and, like all muscles, routine exercise builds strength. Now, I confess, inspiration does not often come easy; prompt books are helpful when my creativity sleeps past the alarm. The most important thing a writer can do is write, but the second most important thing a writer must do is read. I read seventy-five, or more, books a year. The six-hundred words every morning, before my kids wake up, helps warm up my creative process; usually, once Scrivener, my software of choice, flashes the green check mark, which indicates I met my goal, I find myself unwilling to stop.

My Hogwarts Pride

            I write both literary fiction and poetry, but my preference, my passion, my ambition, my purpose is writing prose—fiction. Like all art, the artist, in my case the writer, tattoos themself into their work. All good writing comes from writing what we know, and my truth, the nucleus of my identity is my Christian faith. However, I rarely write anything perceived as Christian, but rather my work, my characters and themes, wrestle with spirituality and ethical dilemmas—a footprint or commentary regarding my own wrestling with God. I embed this insight in nearly all of my work: truth is rarely, if ever, black-and-white, because a character’s circumstances are the brushes that paint their lives. I fancy myself a modern apprentice of Stephen Crane and Victor Hugo; albeit, my style mirrors Madeline Miller and Bernard Cornwell—I write tight.

            I fear, after probing and articulating the human condition, my writing will go unread. My heart is in my work, and, like many of you reading this, I fear rejection; and I accept this fear may never go away; I cringe when rejection letters hit my inbox. However, my confidence holds firm, because without rejections, I would have never learned and ultimately published, and I would have gone on wondering if I was living a pipedream—my head stuck in the clouds.

            Despite personal challenges, my obsession with routine writing and reading has provided me the tools to be good at theme and tension. I love paralleling themes with the physical world in my stories and with my characters’ situations—layering. Nothing arouses me more than when a reader, as if hoodwinked by a magician, thinks I have talent. The trick to writing well, I have found, is to make it easy for your reader to turn the page. My greatest strength in writing is my eye for the reader. 

            Writing is life.

—W. Alexander  

Book Review: On Writing, by Stephen King

Photo: Goodreads

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I will start by saying I am not, and I have never been a fan of Stephen King. Not for any other reason than I do not enjoy horror. However, the craft is the craft, and his take on writing was just too appealing to place back on the shelf.

The first one-hundred pages are about how he developed as a writer. This memoir is not a waste of time, and any reviews that suggest otherwise are your C- dreamers. I gained a deeper respect for Mr. King, and his work ethic—which is why he is a success; he simply sacrificed all he could to write.

Like, King, I too read seventy-five plus books a year, and because of this book, I have now spent several weeks waking up at 5:30am to write a specific word count before I do anything else. Not only is this an empowering—I waltz around the house all day feeling accomplished—strategy, but, I am writing. Yes, that’s right, nothing gets in my way. I have this book to thank for the kick-in-the-butt.

I, also, believe his craft-advice for the words on page are well thought out. I am an English major, and his advice pretty much falls on the same lines—cut adverbs, write actively, etcetera. What makes his approach different, is his strategy of writing with the door closed (first draft). Get the story on the page without critics, without advice, without help, without anyone knowing anything—don’t even tell your partner what is on the page. He even shares excerpts of his own crappy first draft writing, and then his revising strategy—second drafts are shown to his most trusted readers, and they can give their thoughts. It is refreshing to see his first draft is just like the rest of ours: blatantly not ready for anyone’s eyes but the writer’s. It turns out, he is just a regular Joe after all; this is wonderful!

King thrashes the ‘literary elite,’ and their postulations of theory and theme, and shares how efficient and clear prose gets the job done. However, King, like me, was too an English major, and, like me, has a deep love for the language; he loves several different genres, and at one-point shares how much he enjoys Harry Potter—bonus points. I don’t share his anti-elite sentiments, but to each-their-own.

What I took from this book? Stephen King is not superman, and neither does the aspiring writer need to be. King makes it clear, writers are made in the trenches, and those who put their nose to the grindstone, and never let anything stop their writing, succeed.

Of course, I disagree with him on his anti-plotting mentality, but, hey, what works for him (writing situationally), and what works for other artists will be different. He understands, and says as much.

It’s a great kick-in-the-ass book for writers. Buy it, read it, love, read it again, and follow his advice.

*P.S. get up at 5:30am and write till you hit your word count. Who cares if it is garbage? Just write. If you want it enough, you will do it!

—W. Alexander

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The Power of Clarity

"Words, Words, Words"—Shakespeare. 

I am compelled as a writer to weave words together, and to connect my readers to the beating-pulse and rhythm of language. Like a perfectly executed waltz, the right word executes without missing a step; a reader trusts me to take their hand and lead them; if I write ambiguous, doubt creates a misstep—a break in attention—which the reader, now, out of rhythm, might misunderstand my intention, and our dance with language threatens to end in catastrophe; I never want the reader to think I am going to spin, when I intend to let go. Word choice is vital.

To use clear, engaging language, we writers must know the meaning of each word we choose to communicate with, and the careful writer thinks about each word’s meaning and seeks the best choice. If I want to be a great writer—a dance master of language—I must commit to clarity, and that means no Janus words—words with contradictory meanings. Clarity is the highest of ideals! 

To my readers: I have over the last weeks plunged into another bout of depression. Like anyone who struggles with depression, you know there is no battle I can fight, no war I can win, no place I can hide; I can only wait-it-out and hold on to my blessings. I don’t ask for prayers or good vibes, and I certainly don’t want advice on how to fight my own demons. So, if my content appears light, knowing my plight, you might understand why. I love you all.

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What Exactly is Good Writing?

            The author of The Editor’s Companion, Steve Dunham, explains the marks of good writing: good writing is focused, has good content, uses precise language, and uses good grammar.[1] Good writing is concise; the writer should winnow away all needless words and expressions. Good writing is the result of clarity. Good writing is concerned with the reader: the writer uses words the reader understands. Good writing cares about grammar, for at least, the sake of the reader.

            I agree! I believe what constitutes good writing are the following: writing should be clear, economical, and sharp. In addition, to Dunham’s philosophy, I also think good writing embraces clarity as an even higher ideal than grammatical correctness.[2] The writer should strive for economy, clarity, and sharpness above all else.

“I am convinced the most effective way to learn how to write is through reading.” – W. Alexander

            I am convinced the most effective way to learn how to write is through reading; close-reading a specific, accomplished author or genre will teach the writer everything. What you will find is that good, no great writers, use, for example, paragraphs as literary respiration. Consider, Babel- Walter Morrison’s, Crossing into Poland:”

            “Fields flowered around us, crimson with poppies; a noontide breeze played in the yellowing rye; on the horizon virginal buckwheat rose like the wall of a distant monastery… The orange sun rolled down the sky like a lopped-off head, and mild light glowed from the cloud gorges. The standards of the sunset flew above our heads. Into the cool of evening dripped the smell of yesterday’s blood, of slaughtered horses.” [3]

            Reread that paragraph, slowly. Typically, like you, I have been taught to write in a manner that inhales at the beginning of the paragraph, and exhales at the end. This allows for rhythmic change or a perspective shift. Here is the beginning of the very next paragraph.

            Savitsky, Commander of the VI Division, rose when he saw me, and I wondered at the beauty of the giant’s body.”

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Beat the Boy; Destroy the Man 

W. Alexander Dunford  I will never forget the television’s blue light that night fifteen years ago. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Blood Diamond played. Outside, beneath black skies, rain pelted our windows and the house’s bones braced against high winds. Thunder shook the walls.  It was Father’s idea to watch the movie. He loved violence, and I loved…


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            Notice that shift? Notice how breathless the previous paragraph left you, but then abruptly the camera shifts? That to me is brilliant writing that can only be observed through close-reading. Of course, there are volumes of books on what makes good writing, and even more published works of great writing, but great fiction, like poetry, respects the power of rhythm.

[1] Dunham, Steve. The Editor’s Companion: An Indispensable Guide to Editing Books, Magazines, Online Publications, and More. Writer’s Digest Books. Cincinnati, Ohio. chp 2.

[2] Prose, Francine. Reading like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. HaperCollins e-books. New York, NY.  pp. 44

[3] Prose, Francine. Reading like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them. ‘Crossing into Poland.’ Translated by Walter Morison. HaperCollins e-books. New York, NY.  pp. 65

Book Review: The Elements of Style

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every writer should have a copy of The Elements of Style on their bookshelf. You will find it the most useful book on composition ever written. I do not say that lightly either. I am not sure how I, a senior English and Writing: Creative Writing major, had never heard of it until recently, but I suppose Providence has its own timing. Ever since I got serious about my writing, I have devoured every writing book I find. If you are serious about cleaning up your prose and grammar, this book is for you! Seriously, where has this book been all my life?

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Like most readers, I devour reviews, and I can see most reviewers learned of Strunk and White, in freshmen English. I only learned of this book because a professor recommended it to me privately. Thank God she did, because this book is amazing. I like that it is short, contrite, and practical, because unfortunately, most composition books are replete with an author’s opinion on writing. I like that element with other books, but sometimes the writer just needs to see what they are looking for, apply it, and get back to their process. I promise The Elements of Style will be a great addition to your library. I would consider it an essential book for any writers’ toolkit.

I can see, now, why many authors revere Strunk and White’s, The Elements of Style as their holy book. I have fallen in line with the crowd here; I am converted. I will use this book for the rest of my life. I, also, purchased the workbook in order to build on my improvement, and study the style of the masters: Victor Hugo, Jane Austen, F.Scott Fitzgerald, and others.

I recommend this book to both the novice and expert writer.

What about you? What Style books do you recommend I read? Comment Below.

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