Tag Archives: writing process

Creative Writing and Creative Revising


There is some way this moose blanket connects to revision, but that’s on you to figure out.

When I first started writing, I thought the process was simple: First, I sit down and write a bad rough draft over the course of a few winter months, possibly in a snowed-in haunted Colorado hotel. Then, I read through it again and make extensive revisions. Then, I read through it a third and final time to make smaller, cosmetic revisions. Then, the final draft goes out to editors and journals for just shy of an eternity. Writing is almost always discussed as primary, and revision as the after-hours, secondary work. Or, the other way around, revision is portrayed as tedious, noncreative work, challenging only because it is time-consuming, as opposed to writing, which is the entire creative process.

Now that I have dissected, deleted, severed, multiplied, and brutalized a few dozen story drafts in the after-writing process of revision, I have realized how messy these two tasks, writing and revision, actually are. Writers talk about writing as if the best stories we can produce are done with as little revision as possible. We say “I wrote this essay, and here’s my process.” We say “While I was writing this.” We say “I am a writer.” We never say “I am a reviser,” even though we (should) spend the bulk of our creative time revising our work.

It’s easy to say that writing and revision are synonymous because they are part and parcel. But I think there is a subtle difference. We write for the present but revise for the future. We write in the moment, but revise across time. We work under the assumption that the hardest part of the process is finding inspiration and then typing it up, and the rest is smooth but tedious polishing. But I think the opposite is true. The hardest part of writing is revising. Ideas come and build up, and when they don’t, we have forty thousand writing exercises and freewriting prompts to help with that.

What if we used the same language to talk about revision? What if we had entire workshops devoted to revision exercises, revision prompts, and revision craft talks?  Creative revising is a much more useful and accurate description of the process.

Revision, at least, should be discussed as more than an afterthought. It is the bulk of the work involved, and we should discuss it with the same sense of working pleasure we use when talking about writing. Revision requires as much, if not more, creativity.

Writing is the discovery of a crime, and revision is the entire investigation, arrest, and legal proceedings, not to mention the healing process that follows. We lose nothing by placing revision at the forefront of our discussions about writing. The only thing we have to lose is our notion that revision is secondary.



A Step-By-Step Guide to Not Writing a Novel

Coffee Flip

  1. Get an idea for a novel, something that challenges the status quo, too radical for your parents to read. Something like Cormac McCarthy’s work. Drink three cappuccinos and write two pages of exposition, then call it a day.
  2. Make concise, attainable writing goals the next day, but you should wake up late because the caffeine kept you from sleep. Create a reward system: one glass of wine for every ten pages you write. Proceed to crank out sixty pages of character description. Print it out the next day after the hangover wears off, read it over, and flush all sixty pages down the toilet because it sounds like a high school student trying to imitate Cormac McCarthy.
  3. Walk to the store for more wine and a plunger after the first draft of your radical novel clogged the toilet. Make small talk with the cashier. When she asks what kind of stories you write, look at the ceiling, shrug, and say, “Whatever comes to mind,” realizing that after the first three glasses of wine you forgot what you wanted to write about in the first place. Walk out of the store with the bottle of wine in one hand and the plunger in the other, like all writers do at some point.
  4. Rewrite your visionary, stupendous novel in a new voice. Shift the paradigms so radically that you end up with one hundred pages of a different novel entirely. Print it out, read through it, and this time flush the same sixty pages, keeping forty pages of unnecessary but extremely well-written exposition. Blame writer’s block and pour another glass of wine.
  5. Spiral into a deep depression because you can’t seem to write a novel. Spend the weekend drinking wine and reading Cormac McCarthy novels while sitting in front of your word processor. Manage to write another page of exposition, then go a bar where writers are most likely to congregate, to ask them for help with your insurmountable writer’s block.
  6. Choose a swank hipster brew pub in a highly gentrified neighborhood. Stumble in and identify four or five writers sitting in a corner; you know they are writers because they have ordered wine in a brew pub and have brought their plungers with them. You order wine too and spend the next five hours pretending to listen to their advice but, like them, you spend much of the time updating your status about the loser Cormac McCarthy wannabes surrounding you.
  7. The next morning, email Cormac McCarthy. By now, your plot and character names should be thoroughly forgotten. You decide that you cannot write without his prophetic advice, so do not even attempt writing until you a receive a reply from Cormac McCarthy’s agent, a terse email containing the titles of several self-help books that Cormac McCarthy has written to counteract the rise of depressed writers trying to imitate him. You purchase one such book, entitled It’s Called Trying, Doofus. it features McCarthy on the cover holding a plunger.
  8. Spend the next three months perusing the Internet for cures to writer’s block and trying each one until it becomes boring. Start with the obvious (writing), then move on to the more exciting suggestions, like boxing Irish dairy farmers or having an affair with the prince of Liechtenstein. Try living on a diet of onions and peaches, or preach the gospel to alligators. All writers have their quirks, right?
  9. Try to be a writer; do everything you can to be a writer, because we all know being a writer is a lot easier than actually writing. The act of writing is difficult, often lonely work, requiring dangerous amounts of time alone with one’s thoughts resulting in alienation and poor social skills. Although the benefits of writing (completing a draft with a satisfied sigh, seeing the delight in the faces of those you share a polished draft with, seducing people, and such) are truly worth the effort in the end, the work that goes into writing is emotionally exhausting. If it were easy, there would be a lot more people writing than sitting around being writers.
  10. If writing were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Scars can be beneficial sometimes.


Ten Minutes to Tell a Story

TheaterEvery year, Flagstaff Theatrikos hosts a 10-minute playwriting contest, and this year I intend to enter. I’ve submitted plays in past contests, but they all had one thing in common: there was too much in the plot to fit into ten minutes.

The rules are simple. There can be no more than three characters and the play should be no more than ten pages, and must not involve complicated scenery or props. Apart from the rules there are certain parameters that a ten-minute play should reside within. To move the plot, it is best to have a change in action every two to four minutes. It should be like a short story, with a beginning conflict, a middle crisis, and an ending resolution. Because other people volunteer to direct the plays, stage directions from the writer should be kept to a minimum.

On the surface, it’s just one more writing contest. At the same time, it’s different from short story contests because in this case, the audience watches the story unfold rather than imagines it unfolding. It’s an opportunity for a writer to pack a great deal of information into a thin wedge of time for a live audience. For me, writing plays has always been more difficult than prose. My plots have always been too ambitious, too embedded in history, and had characters too complex to develop in sixteen hundred words. A few years ago, one of my plays was about the Napoleonic Wars; another was about Irish independence from England.

Conversely, the few full-length plays I have written have always been too short, and involved plots and characters more suited for a sitcom. How can I pack conflict, crisis, and resolution into ten minutes and keep it important? Similarly, how can I make a simple story worth telling? The deadline is fast approaching; this will likely be my last opportunity to enter, and I’d like to be able to hone this particular skill, like packing five weeks worth of luggage into one carry-on bag. It’s a unique challenge, and the entire Watergate scandal simply won’t fit into a ten-minute play, no matter how hard I try.

Enough thoughtfulness and reflection. I have a play to write.