Tuesday, June 7, 2016

And and And and And and And: Distance, Time, Perspective

A few months ago at the Plainfield Public Library's request, I hosted a low-key revision workshop. Those present read samples of their work, so I shared Henry's opening chapter, which I had printed off for WriteOn Joliet later that week.

Well, we've lately had so many people at writer's group, that I've held back reading my own work so the rest of the writers have their chance. Last night was the finally the night. To my delight, the two women I'd met at the revision workshop came out to the group

This is why distance, time and perspective are so helpful to us as writers. Here is an excerpt of that chapter, and I'll explain why it's so insightful.

Every morning, she woke up happy. Every night, she went to sleep exhausted... and happy.

            She prepared and served each meal with a smile and taught their five daughters to do likewise.

            She bore each hardship with grace.

            She never raised her voice but spoke with the sweetness befitting a gentlewoman.

            She served him and waited on him.

            She soothed his thirst with drink.

            She was ready with a basin and towel to wash the soot from his face and hands.

            She brought him soup, and she brought him bread, food that her fingers, gnarled and no longer delicate, lovingly prepared.

            While she scrubbed, and sewed, and cooked, and cleaned, and pushed forth another child, he plucked the guitar.

At the first reading, one of the women thought I should lose the multiple "ands" in the last line. I wasn't sure I agreed with her, but I noted it, as I always mull of these type of reactions and consider them during revising. I was also curious as to the reaction of WriteOn.

I did not mention the suggestion before I read it. And not one person thought I should drop the "ands," including the writer who originally made the suggestion.

This does not mean the suggestion was wrong or off base. It does mean writers, whether writing or critiquing, benefit from distance, time, and perspective.

While we're in the composing process, we are too close to our work. That's one reason I dislike writing features on tight deadlines. I feel my stories are better when I can edit them at least twenty-four hours later. Fortunately, those stories pass through the eyes of wonderful editors.

Being too close to our work doesn't mean we're too attached to our lofty prose. It just means in the process of arranging letters and words means we can't see the forest for the trees, if you will, until we step back and take in the whole.

And it's hard to adequately distance ourselves without letting some time pass between draft and revision.

That's what gives us a different perspective of that work.

Don't get me wrong. We NEED the perspective of being immersed in the forest. That's where we find the tiny flowers growing underfoot and crawling things under logs. We can't add the details that give characters depth, build tension, create mood, and push that story forward unless we do so.

But we also can't see if we've done those things effectively until we walk away and return, but at a distance.

It's also why the perspective of others - readers and writers - is extremely helpful.

Those people have not been inside your head. They don't have the tangle of impressions you've sought to separate and remold into a compelling story.

Those people have not been at your keyboard as you constructed each section into a seamless piece.

That's why their feedback is valuable.

But, conversely, that's also why you needn't blindly accept their opinion. 

Only you know if their suggestions will improve your premise or distract you from it. And how do you judge that?

Distance, time, and perspective.

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