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427Latinidad 5/13: 10th Anniversary - The Revision Process

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  • Marcela Landres
    May 9, 2013
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      Latinidad 5/13: 10th Anniversary – The Revision Process

      Contents:
      1. Saludos
      2. Q&A: Jotham Burrello
      3. Resources: Year-Long Grants for Writers
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      1. Saludos

      In continuation of my celebration of Latinidad's tenth anniversary, I am
      culling the best advice and advisors from back issues to help you get
      published. Previously, I've discussed managing money and time, writing
      classes, and critique groups. This month's focus is on the revision process.

      Once you have produced a draft of a manuscript you think is ready to
      submit, think again. Invest the time in at least one more rewrite. Better
      to revise one too many times than one time too few. To learn more,
      read this month's Q&A with Jotham Burrello, producer of the DVD "So, Is
      It Done?: Navigating the Revision Process."

      Helping Latinos get published,
      Marcela Landres
      marcelalandres@...
      http://www.marcelalandres.com/

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      To read past issues of Latinidad®, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/marcelalandres/
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      2. Q&A

      Jotham Burrello is a creative writing instructor at Columbia College
      Chicago, where he directs the Publishing Lab, a resource for emerging
      writers, and the Review Lab, an online forum dedicated to keeping the
      art of the book review alive and thriving. In 2010 he launched ERP's
      publishing imprint Elephant Rock Books. Jotham's writing has appeared
      in literary journals and the Christian Science Monitor. He is the former
      editor of Sport Literate, a journal of creative nonfiction. He recently
      completed his novel, Fall River. For more information, visit
      http://www.erpmedia.net/

      Q: Many beginning writers don't trust their own insight or editing
      skills. How can "So, Is It Done?" help them develop the confidence
      and ability to self-edit?

      A: On the DVD, writer Ron Carlson explains he just doesn't pick up a
      pencil and say, "I'm gonna make this story better." Writers need to
      develop strategies to attack a manuscript. It's what we call process—
      on the DVD we get specific. The DVD breaks down the revision process
      into five rounds that present strategies for revision. Exercises on
      the disc correspond to each round. After watching the program
      writers will be armed with strategies to reshape their stories.

      For example, host Janet Burroway gives two examples of concrete
      significant detail. The entire close-up section in round three is
      devoted to it. As Burroway says on the DVD, "fiction comes alive
      with concrete significant detail." Writers should understand the
      importance of the terms "concrete" and "significant" and strive for
      both. I see too much summary and general description in student
      manuscripts. Force yourself to "see it" as your characters see it so
      readers can see and experience your stories.

      Recognizing the shortcomings of your own fiction or creative
      nonfiction is a difficult task. Even the published authors on the
      DVD acknowledge they struggle but what sets them apart is they
      have action plans or tricks to identify and "fix" the problems. This
      takes many years, and we're always learning, because each story
      presents unique challenges. And sometimes stories don't work. For
      every published story a writer might have three to four that aren't
      published. Remember stories are never finished, simply abandoned. Of
      course it's nice to abandon them in magazines or books. We all want
      that.

      Q: Writing is a solitary and private act; writing workshops are
      communal and public. Why, then, are writing workshops highly
      recommended as part of the revision process?

      A: Was it Emerson who said you can't see the field from within the
      field? We all need teachers and peers to create art. And I'm not
      talking about taking verbatim feedback and putting it into your
      story. Sometimes it's what's not said in a feedback session that
      gets you thinking.

      There are generative workshops and critique-based workshops.
      The former are more focused on getting it out and the latter are
      equipped to steer revision. I think both are necessary, but the
      critique needs to always remain focused on the work and not the
      writer. When getting feedback writers should listen to everyone and
      then make decisions based on what the story needs. On the DVD I
      interview writer Ken Foster (and we visit his class) and discuss
      running a workshop, how writers should participate, read manuscripts
      and receive feedback. We also have a four-page guide for running a
      workshop. Establishing certain ground rules helps save time and
      egos.

      Lastly, workshops and writing groups help writers build a
      social community of like-minded folks that can assist one other in
      placing stories in magazines, or setting up readings, or discussing
      revisions, or books, etc. We're a nation of interest groups. Why not
      start your own writing group at a local café? I'm attending a
      meeting of writers this evening. We've been at it for five years. I
      think it's my turn to bring the vino.

      Q: What are the five most common mistakes writers make when
      revising their work?

      A: 1. To paraphrase Faulkner, an inability to kill our darlings.
      Many stories start from a frenzied journal entry unleashed from a
      bit of overheard gossip at Starbucks, or from a dream, or a New York
      Times dispatch from New Orleans . . . inspiration for first drafts
      is exciting. We write for ourselves or perhaps for an audience
      initially. But after you've completed a first draft—written a
      beginning, middle, and end—you must shift gears and look at the work
      with a lens of detachment. This is hard to do. But you must begin to
      ask questions of the work and make changes based on what the work
      needs, and not on what you, the writer, wants to happen to your hero
      or what your sister will think is funny. Too many writers don't make
      this shift. In revision, prioritize the work, then self, and
      audience. As writer William Knott wrote in his book The Craft of
      Fiction, "anyone can write—and almost everyone you meet these days
      is writing. However, only the writers know how to rewrite. It is
      this ability alone that turns the amateur into a pro."

      2. Lack of plot. I read a lot of good student stories but very
      few well plotted stories. And don't think of plot as simply a genre
      term. We all want to be entertained. I suggest once you've completed
      a solid draft chart the events described in your scenes and ask two
      simple questions: How does the action in this scene lead to the
      next? Is the drama increasing?

      3. Show, don't tell. [See concrete significant detail comment
      above.]

      4. Find the Save As key in your word processing program and use
      it often. Stories take months, sometimes years, to evolve. And by
      numbering or collecting drafts you can later reflect the evolution
      of your story, but most importantly each time you sit down you will
      give yourself a fresh start. You won't be messing with your initial
      inspiration simply reshaping it into a plot. I'm currently on draft
      twenty-five of a story I am revising.

      5. A teacher once told me, real life is no excuse for bad
      fiction. Translation: just because an event happened to you or
      cousin Freddy doesn't make it dramatic. Every writer uses personal
      or observed or told experiences to create fiction but published
      writers build on real events and embellish and dramatize to create
      new worlds and characters. Use "real life" for inspiration, not as
      the entire basis for a story. As Dorothy Parker said in a 1959
      interview with Studs Terkel, "You can't put down what everybody
      says, you'd be bored stiff."

      Q: There are countless books, magazines, and web sites designed to
      help writers--why did you choose the DVD format, and how does it
      complement the other resources available to writers?

      A: I have an entire bookshelf of writing texts, and I own just a tiny
      fraction of what book publishers are pumping out each year. We don't
      need another book on craft but a multimedia tool seemed like a nice
      alternative. The DVD format allows the mixing of video and text (PDF
      files) so in a sense you get the best of both worlds. (You can't do
      this on VHS or CD-ROM.) Our DVD includes a 121-page book of stories
      from the participants. You can hear Robert Olen Butler discuss
      significant detail then read a story from his Pulitzer Prize winning
      collection. This is a huge advantage of the DVD technology. Plus
      there are exercises corresponding to each round of revision.

      I wanted to give writers access to published writers discussing
      their craft "live." This very rarely happens at public panels or
      readings (and when it does it usually is in response to omnibus
      questions like "what's your writing process?" that can't be answered
      in thirty seconds). Plus there are hundreds of textbooks on the
      topic of writing but few that concentrate on revision. It's a
      complicated process and very personal (we all know what we do well
      and not so well), so by showing writers in their homes or writing
      retreats we can "see" their revision strategies.

      I wanted to work with the renowned writer and educator Janet
      Burroway. I'm a big admirer of her textbook, Writing Fiction, and
      thought we could take on the revision chapter. But I knew of course
      that discussing revision involved a rehashing of setting,
      characterization, POV, voice, the whole ball of wax. Janet presents
      material in a manner that's accessible and motivating. She's a
      terrific lady.

      Lastly, I think folks learn in different ways. Some of us are
      visual beasts, others auditory, etc. I am hoping to engage younger
      writers who don't get psyched about textbooks but rather respond to
      multimedia to spark their creativity. That said, I wasn't going to do
      the project without examples of good writing, thus the inclusion of
      the e-book. I think of the video on the DVD as a gateway to reading.

      Q: In addition to being a video producer, you teach creative writing
      and are a writer. How has your writing background inspired and
      influenced "So, Is It Done?"

      A: Writing stories and books is the hardest thing I've ever done. But I
      believe if I keep after it someday I'll produce solid prose. Of
      course, it takes more than craft to create memorable stories but
      knowing strategies to revise manuscripts helps when inspiration
      hits.

      I've edited a literary journal, published stories, taught
      creative writing, and produced how-to or instructional videos for
      over 15 years with educators at Indiana University. So these DVDs
      were my first chance to merge my technical background as a video guy
      with my writing interest. On this project I shot some interviews,
      edited the tape, as well as co-wrote the script, and conducted the
      interviews. Plus I wanted to provide a product for my writing
      students. They were my guiding light in the editing room. What I've
      found is that writers at all levels need reminding and strategies
      for revising their fiction and creative nonfiction.

      3. Resources
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      HOW EDITORS THINK

      "I read How Editors Think in one sitting and was engaged from beginning to
      end. It is well written, highly informative, and humorous—I found myself
      laughing out-loud in a few spots! Thanks for sharing the secrets of the trade."
      —Mayra Lazara Dole, author of Down to the Bone

      Inspired by my experience as a former Simon & Schuster editor, How Editors
      Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You reveals what it really takes to get
      published. For more information, visit:
      http://www.marcelalandres.com/E-book.html
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      EMERGING WRITER RESIDENCY
      Deadline: June 1
      The Hub City Writers Project offers The Writers House Residency, a
      nine-month residency with a $750 monthly stipend to an emerging
      writer who has completed an MFA or PhD in creative writing. For more
      information, visit http://hubcity.org/
      *****
      $10,000 MYSTERY CONTEST
      Deadline: June 1
      The Hillerman Mystery Competition offers a $10,000 advance and
      contract for publication by St. Martin's Press to any professional or
      non-professional writer, regardless of nationality, who has never been
      the author of a published mystery. For more information, visit
      http://tinyurl.com/qyvt7e
      *****
      SPANISH POETRY AWARD
      Deadline: June 15
      Miami Dade College and The National Poetry Series sponsor the Paz Prize
      for Poetry for a previously unpublished book of poetry written originally in
      Spanish by an American resident. The winning poet will receive $1000 and
      publication of a bilingual edition by Akashic Press. For more information, visit
      http://www.flcenterlitarts.com/site/programs/paz_prize.html
      *****
      POETRY COLLECTION AWARD
      Deadline: June 15
      The Library of Poetry Book Award offers $1000 and publication by Bitter
      Oleander Press for a collection of poetry. For more information, visit
      http://www.bitteroleander.com/
      *****
      CREATIVE NONFICTION CONTEST
      Deadline: June 30
      A prize of $1000 and publication in the Northern Colorado Writers
      anthology will be given annually for a work of creative nonfiction. For
      more information, visit http://www.northerncoloradowriters.com/
      *****
      YEAR-LONG GRANTS FOR WRITERS
      Deadline: July 1
      The Elizabeth George Foundation offers emerging playwrights, short
      story writers, poets, and unpublished novelists one-time funding that
      will enable them to live and work for up to a year as a writer. For more
      information, visit http://www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com/foundation/
      *****
      POETRY COLLECTION AWARD
      Deadline: July 6
      The First Book Award offers $2000, publication by Southern Illinois
      University Press, and a $1500 honorarium to give a reading for a poetry
      collection. For more information, visit
      http://craborchardreview.siu.edu/firstpo.html
      *****
      PRIZE FOR 500 WORDS
      Reading Period: June 1 - August 1
      The 1/2 K Prize offers $1000 and publication in Indiana Review for a
      poem or a work of fiction under 500 words. For more information, visit
      http://indianareview.org/
      *****
      SEEKING SHORT STORIES
      Deadline: August 1
      The First Line is a literary journal in which each issue contains short
      stories that stem from a common first line. All writers whose stories are
      published are paid. For more information, visit http://www.thefirstline.com/
      *****
      JUST PUBLISHED: OUR LOST BORDER
      With a foreword by renowned novelist Rolando Hinojosa, Our Lost Border:
      Essays on Life Amid the Narco-Violence puts a human face on the news
      stories. Editors Sarah Cortez and Sergio Troncoso created this anthology
      to bear witness to how violence has shattered life on the border, to
      remember the past, but also to point to the possibilities of a better future.
      For more information, visit http://tinyurl.com/ckyk7zh
      *****
      KNOWLEDGE IS POWER ONLY WHEN SHARED
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      For more resources, visit http://www.marcelalandres.com/resources.html
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      "The pain of the discipline is short, but the glory of the fruition is eternal."
      —Harriet Beecher Stowe

      Latinidad® © 2003 by Marcela Landres

      Marcela Landres
      Author of the e-book "How Editors Think: The Real Reason They Rejected You"
      http://www.marcelalandres.com/