See the Tree? No? I Do! A Lesson in Revising

by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
Published on: May 4, 2015
Categories: Basics, Challenges, Craft
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no-treeHere’s the thing about revising. Taking another look…and yet another look…at a draft of your own writing deals with more than what’s still on the page. For me the harder part of the revising and revisioning process is dealing with what’s no longer on the page.

Take this picture, for instance. I’ve walked along this path about 3,000 times over the past few years. For the first 2,800 times, I saw a small fir tree in front of the metal screen. I barely noticed the screen. Instead, I enjoyed that tree. I watched it thrive. Then, for some reason, the tree sickened and died. One day the tree was gone, erased from the scene. All that was left was the screen, but I still kept remembering the tree. I still focused on what was gone rather than on what remained.

It’s that way with my writing. Sometimes I get rid of a character that’s not needed, or dialogue that doesn’t pull its weight, or a bit of backstory that bogs down the action. I know I’ve made the scene better, but I can’t yet wrap my mind around what I am sharing with the reader and what is still stuck in my head.

Do I have a foolproof plan for dealing with this after-image syndrome? No. Not really. I wish I could be more helpful here. I do have some tools, though.

  • The critique group. I take advantage of the mindset of every one of the Scrivas. They aren’t as wedded to my “fir tree” as I am, because I thought up that fir tree and they only read about it.
  • The know-nothing reader. I find another reader, preferably someone who doesn’t know much about the story, and I ask them to read the “with tree” and “without tree” versions. I want to get out of my head and into theirs.
  • Desensitizing. Bear with me on this one. It sounds like a weird technique, but it does work for me. I deliberately put the “fir tree” back in the scene, then take it out, then put it in again, then take it out again. Eventually I get to the point where I am good and sick of that tree. I am more interested in every other part of the scene. The tree is so yesterday’s draft.

Every once in a great while something that I’ve removed from a scene insists on returning. What happens then is… the subject for another blog.

 

 

Post Revisions:

  • May 4, 2015 @ 12:35:05 [Current Revision] by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
  • May 4, 2015 @ 12:35:05 by Ruth Tenzer Feldman
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