Ruthless Eraser

IMG_0215Supposedly Sir Walter Scott sent his unread first drafts to the printers; Anthony Trollope wrote two hundred and fifty words every quarter of an hour; and not to be outdone: Hilaire Belloc claimed he wrote twenty thousand words a day. Well, writers of fiction are professional liars, so you know, grain of salt and all that. Or, can we take Oscar Wilde at his word when he proffered that he spent the morning putting in a comma, and the afternoon taking it out, or, Flaubert’s claim that over a three-day period he could only muster eight lines of prose?

Regardless, the hand that writes must also erase says every writer since the dawn of time. Or as Flaubert put it himself about that ninth or tenth or eleventh line borne of toil and torture: “qu’il faut pourtant ratuer encore.” —  “which all the same must still be deleted.”

The clearest revision strategy I’ve come across is the one advocated by Chris Offutt, a writer of both fiction and nonfiction. He says any first draft is “unbelievably subjective” where the writers is her most vulnerable. The second draft is the beginning of objectivity, and marks the beginning of the revision process. For to revisionist is to be cold and objective, and not overly attached to darlings. “Revising requires a cruel and ruthless objectivity,” writes Offut. Take this ruthlessness with you as you embark on revising. Here’s his strategy:

  1. First look at structure (conventional short story structure), POV, plot and exposition – clear as intended?
  2. Then trim the opening – this is where you the writer have been thinking on paper.
  3. Following that, look at your sentences for tone, style, language, and sentence length variation.
  4. Finally, polish: look at verbs; words that repeat; look at adjectives and adverbs.
anecdotes from Style by FL Lucas and editing advice from The Writer’s Notebook edited by Tin House