Friday, October 16, 2009

Revisions: Climbing to the Top

I am learning so much this semester in the Vermont College writing for children program. I’ve been writing with purpose for about ten years now, so I thought I had a little bit of a handle on picture books, but I’ve realized there is so much to learn. So much more.

One of the things that I’ve found most fascinating is revision. Revisions are a part of writing; we all get that. First drafts are one thing. Revisions are another. This is where an author rolls up her sleeves, puts on her editorial hat and starts analyzing her work. She figures out what needs to be improved, shows her work to other writers for feedback, and takes out the machete to cut words and the polish to make her writing shine. Yeah, I “got” all that.

Then I started the Picture Book Intensive semester. I now see revisions not as a “one-stop” reworking attempt where I try to make my work shine in one fell swoop but instead as working my way up a series of steps. Now, each revision feels much more deliberate because I know that sometimes I have to climb up to the next step, in order for me to gain steady ground so I can climb up to the next level (eventually reaching the top).

For example, one particular piece I started with was over 800 words long. My first revision challenge was to cut it by 80%. I did that, feeling quite proud of myself; but then despite its 200-word length, I still had to cut more to eliminate places where I was doing the illustrator’s job (meaning, describing too much). Okay, that was the next draft. Once I had my story down to 100 words, my next revision challenge was to write it in rhyme. Okay, I did that, and quite happily. I’d thought about writing this piece in rhyme before, but I was so lost in my overly narrative language that I didn’t know where to begin. You see, I had to go through all of the other revisions so I could climb to a place where I could see my work in rhyme. Kind of like climbing a cloud-encased mountain until you can break through and more clearly see the view. After I wrote it in rhyme, my next challenge was to improve the format and structure. Which I’ve done. And working on.

My point is, it’s been eye-opening for me to now see revisions more as climbing to the next level, so I can see my work differently, thus allowing me to again take it to another level. Like mountain climbing.

Now, I must give credit where credit is due. My advisor acts as the rope and pitons that keeps me safely secured to the mountain. She has guided me along and given me many challenges to help me work my way through my stories, much like a climber works his way up the face of a granite dome. And my classmates are like my climbing buddies—belaying me, guiding me, letting me know I’m not alone.

It’s seeing the revisions as a series of levels, which must be reached before proceeding to the next that I find so fascinating. Not one fell-swoop, but necessary steps for the climb.