Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In praise of revision, as always

In a fit of optimism (insanity?) I promised our esteemed blog administrator that I would post at least once during the residency. Ha! I did, however, think of things to say as I walked the track or crouched in the single seat on the van. I even made some notes one sleepless night. Here are some thoughts from home. (Home. Isn't that the most beautiful word?)

One aspect of the residency that I enjoy most is the chance to learn from my workshop partners. Kelly Easton and I teach at Rhode Island College's ASTAL Institute each June, but we haven't run a workshop together, so I was delighted to be paired with her this time. Kelly gives each student in workshop "designer homework," an assignment geared to his or her individual stories. Even if the assignment was focused on story structure, each writer had to include these words: Umbrella. Ravishing. Hurtle. Onions. We gave out the assignments on Day Two of workshop, received them on Day Five and discussed them on Day Six.

During the final workshop, we all took turns reading the new pages out loud, so that the writer could hear the words in someone else's voice. The new scenes showed the power of revision as writers wrote dialogue without tags, opened up hot spots, used sensory detail to nail a setting, added action to reveal emotion, or changed a story's structure. We were already invested in their stories, but the revisions showed the power of seeing a story anew. We laughed at the creative use of totem words, and the new scenes made us hungry to know what would happen next.

Finally, Kelly threw out a wild card that last morning: she asked us to jot down, at random, three things we would add to our stories. I found this exercise illuminating. Now that I'm home, with my unfinished novel on my desk, I am poised to add: a champagne poodle, a failed batch of bread--and sex. Try this exercise, and do it fast, without thinking. What would you add to your story?

Thanks to Kelly, and our workshop group, for six lively and fascinating sessions. Write on!


  1. I love this revision exercise Liza and Kelly. Thanks. I'm going to do it with my class tonight.

    Every book ought to have at least one champagne poodle in it somewhere!

  2. Thank you, Liza. It was a lovely week indeed and I learned a tremendous amount from you and from the students (lots of yin and yang) and I agree with Lisa, who we missed very much, a champagne poodle is almost as good as champagne itself (especially since we're writing for kids).

  3. I should put a flaming sword into my novel. That would be SO COOL. And maybe a crazed hamster.

  4. Ahh, yes... The Dog Perignon is made from a mixed breed of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Most folks howl when they've consumed too much... or bark at their partners. But this only happens in extreme cases.

    I hope everyone had safe travels. Cheers!