Prompting Revision by Katy

Katherine Longshore Reply Thursday, November 18, 2010
Some of the best and most productive writing prompts I’ve ever encountered have been at writing conferences.  Small, breakout sessions on voice, character, setting, revision.

Wait.  Revision?

I had the good fortune to attend a session led by the fabulous Lisa Yee on the joy of revising a manuscript.  At that time, I hated revision.  I was of the “you mean I have to do it again?” school of writing.  But I wanted to learn to love it.  Because I knew how necessary it is.  This exercise helped, because it demonstrates the power of rewriting a piece.  I’ll share with you the instruction she gave and my own poor attempts at writing in the five minutes allotted to us (cue embarrassed blush).

List Four Things in a Child’s Room:
            Dirty Socks

Write a description of the room in third person:

            The toys lay under the bed, admist a nest of dirty socks.  None of the socks matched, and they were virtually unwearable anyway, so it hardly mattered.  The important stuff, the books, were on the bed.  Some with bookmarks, two lay face down, picture books nestled together in serious embrace.  A small space, up near the pillow, lay free of books – a space just big enough for the child to fit in a womb of books.

Write a description of the room in 1st person, from the point of view of its occupant:

            My mother told me to go and put on my socks.  Her exact words:  “Go get your socks, we’re leaving in 5 minutes.”  I couldn’t find any except for the dirty ones under the bed with my old toys.  I looked.  I really looked.  I swear.  But my Star Wars book was there on the bed, right next to my pillow and I remembered that I was in the middle of the part where Anakin meets the *** creature and I had to finish that part, but first I needed to find the book my brother left when I read to him about the *** creature.  And it was stuck inside Where the Wild Things Are and that’s so fast and easy to read and my dad got it for me when I was a baby so I read that first.

Now revise the description to be in 1st person, from the point of view of the parent.  BUT, the child has died.

            The hardest to face were the socks.  The books, piled on the bed, with the perfect Andrew-shaped hole, they made me cry.  But I can shelve them neatly – I’ve been doing it for years.  The toys I gave away – they’d been replaced years ago by the books.  But the socks, the dirty, unmatched socks that he could never find and spent hours reading instead of finding them.  The socks with his sweat and grubbiness and friendly inside-outedness.  The socks I left there.  I couldn’t touch them.

I don’t think Lisa expected the room to dissolve into tears.  There weren’t enough tissues to go around.  None of us shared what we wrote.  But we all felt it. 

And that’s the magic of revision.  Looking at the room from a different angle.  Picking out the most important details.  Highlighting them.  Cutting the rest.  There is beauty there.  And freedom.  And I love it.

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