Monday, July 5, 2010

The Mighty Red Pen

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I have a tendency to do everything back-assward. Can you imagine how that encroaches on my writing? Take for instance the first draft: Everyone knows you basically write without thought to grammar, spelling, and *blink* editing. The general rule is to get the story out of your brain and in some semblance of order on the page in front of you. Everything else comes in the consecutive drafts later on. Sounds easy enough right?

Uhm, yeah, if you say so…

For starters, I’m a free form writer. I let strange variations of plot (whatever story won’t stop nitpicking away at me until I give it a voice) flow. No outline, no clue as to where the story goes from beginning to end. In some ways I’m like a reader who picks up a book by a debut author – until it’s written the story is just as fresh and new to me, as it is for them. I love that the ending catches me by surprise or hits me out of left field.

To make things even more interesting (remember cardinal rule breaker here)…I broke the fundamental rule of the first draft and let a Beta reader work over my pages with a bright red pen. Those red marks danced circles around my words and left a macabre sight. Lines shadowed in parenthesis scolding in big red letters – REDO, echoes of – this makes no sense or this is unbelievable. My manuscript cringes in its designated binder, begging the red pen for mercy.

I wouldn’t say I’m a diehard rebel. For instance, I kowtowed to the popular rule of no edits in the first draft (which is challenging). So now, the binder sits in full view taunting me. I did read all the corrections and do take those red dashes across my prose serious. Those marks let me know in some nefarious way if I’m heading in the right direction or veered so far off the mark I’m no longer working on the same storyline.

No worries, I get my dues in the end. I get the satisfaction of knowing my Beta reader still doesn’t have a clue how this book ends. To me, that’s good writing. I managed to lay the groundwork, feeding just enough to let the foreshadowing work its magic. He senses the underlying currents with my characters and wants more.

Writers are excellent weavers. We pull the strands of words, chapters, characters and plot together, into an extensive web of enchantment and mystery. Even so, there are days those strands don’t pull tight enough or yank the web eschewed – as evidenced by the mighty red pen. So I pull the web apart and rework the strands until I can present something worthy of the spider in Charlotte’s Web.

At the end of the day I need to ask myself, is the way I write working for me? You tell me. The latest red pen declaration was, “Oh F*** me!” That would be in response to a revealing piece of the story. In case you’re wondering…yes, he did give me a flattering appraisal. His surprise turned out to be all the encouragement I needed.

The mighty red pen…where would I be without your constant challenging, encouraging scarlet scribbles across my words?

*This has been a public service message to remind me why I don’t outright kill the wielder of the RED pen (winks).

54 comments:

  1. Your first paragraph sums me up. I just get the monster down on paper and then beat it up and polish it out.

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  2. hehe! I'm afraid I can't play by those rules. I'm always editing and that's the way I like it. I don't see how that is wrong. My first draft is like a second draft in the end and I suppose it ends up taking the same amount of time as it would doing two drafts. You just gotta do what works for you.

    PS: Nice to see you around again! :o)

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  3. Great tips, Indy. I have begun to work over my entries in my journal (since it is a story in its own right) for clarity and focus. I didn't for a long while because I thought of it as a 'first draft'.

    Anywho, glad to see you out and about here. Hope everything is well with you and your family!

    L&R
    Mark

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  4. People such as yourself who can get the story down on paper fascinate me. I have stories (or parts of stories) in my brain, but can never get them out LOL! I used to have a friend who was a writer. He would come by and say "whatcha thinking?". He would then take the ideas and actually make them work. His first two short story sales where from ideas of mine. I did get a steak dinner out of it ;p

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  5. Smile The Red Pen does not have a chance with you:) It might as well give up now, as it will soon love every story you write:)

    Ann
    Always around somewhere:)Getting Older month by month but still here!

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  6. I just started my college english class a week ago-trying to follow rules on how to write is difficult for me, much like it was in high school-I know what sounds right but now I have to learn WHY it sounds right...not having fun right now..gaah..

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  7. Showing a reader your first draft isn't wrong, it just rarely achieves anything, because your second draft is likely to be very different.

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  8. Sounds like quite the journey you are traveling, looking forward to your destination.

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  9. I don't write first drafts. I see no use not to edit something as soon as I see a problem. But I do let my critique partners read my work in progress ... I guess for the same reason. If their comments let me know I've failed the story in some way, why not correct it then, rather than keep piling words on a shaky foundation? And it my "editors" love it so far, hallelujah!

    Like you, I need the encouragement and challenge of the red pen.

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  10. the thought of having someone lord over my words with a red pen terrifies me, so kudos to you, my friend. love you. hope you had a wonderful birthday & holiday honey!

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  11. All I can say to this is "Some Pig." :)

    But seriously, I've also changed the way I think about feedback on early drafts. After all, why not catch it early if something isn't clear or working?

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  12. Hooray for your appraisal! the red pen is a gift in disguise. I have no doubt your changes will be that much more magnificent!!!

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  13. I am one of those write then edit it type people but I love the way yours unfold.

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  14. I never seem to follow the rules either! No outlines for me either :)

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  15. I just keep rewriting rewriting and rewriting...

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  16. HAHA! We can be bass-akwards together, since you pretty much just summed up my writing process, too!

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  17. Oh, I have often thought of writers as spiders weaving lovely webs of words too! Sometimes I imagine I am a writing magician, pulling a silken cord of great prose from my ear, where it was kept within my mind :)

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  18. Indigo, thanks for that encouraging news...I can't for the life of me get started on writing ... but one day !!...My neighbour on the other hand does write a fairly good story and always asks me to read and give my advice !! daft idea if you ask me...but there you are. next time he asks I am going to have the big red pen on hand !!
    hope you are feeling ok. You sound so much better these days.
    Love sybil xx

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  19. Lynda Barry wrote her second novel by painting the words with a brush on legal paper. The slow pace helped the story flow naturally and in its own time.

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  20. Everyone has their own journey and methods when it comes to writing. Much as we despise the red pen, we need it. All of us!

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  21. I remember your writing from when Jackie introduced me to your journal on AOL. It has evolved in a pretty amazing way. That shows real dedication & Work. ~Mary

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  22. Indigo, inspiration never looked so simple. Nothing like a red pen to make me get my act together.

    Hugs,
    Belinda
    www.thehalfwaypoint.net

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  23. It's nice to have you back, Indigo.

    I'm like you and find myself just as surprised by writing as a new reader would. It's great. I also try really hard to let the editing go until after the draft is complete. It's oh so hard, but worth it.

    Have fun as you rework your manuscript. Red pens can be our friends.

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  24. I'm an outliner, but I have a hard time not doing a teensy editing as I write the first draft. Nothing major though. A friend of mine does major editing as she writes . . . and sends each chapter to her crit group before she's finished writing the book. I can't do that. I have to finish the book and put it through several drafts. Plus, I always end up weaving things in that I hadn't considered in the first draft. ;)

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  25. My grammar can downright suck. I think in fragmented sentences, there fore I write in them. But as long as people enjoy what I write, that's all I really care about.
    And I LOVE how you write, grammatically incorrect or not.

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  26. My crit group leaves plenty of marks all over my copies, and I value them all.

    That was quite a reaction at the end from your beta reader. You are doing a great job.

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  27. As an editor, I'm glad writers don't kill the wielder of the RED pen!

    I tend to write, edit, edit, rewrite, tear apart, write, edit, then repeat multiple times before I pass it on to a reader or editor.

    Yeah, I'm weird.

    Straight From Hel

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  28. hehe! YIKES the red pen after the first draft. I'd have to cover my eyes while reading all the red marks!

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  29. My English professor used to say that there are "ekers" and "gushers." The ekers write in their head, and then painstakingly put the words on paper. The gushers let everything tumble out of their heads willy-nilly onto the page and clean up later. It's so interesting to see everyone's composition processes! Thanks, Indigo!

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  30. I'm a lot like you. For instance, my last ms, it spilled out of me in a writer's zone non-stop no editing mode in 3 weeks. 86,000+ words. Now it is three months later and I am still self-editing, having it edited, revising, rewriting, and polishing. You need the non-edited serendipity to make it feel real and honest, but you need the red pencil to hone and polish it. The latter is MUCH more work in my experience.

    Marvin D Wilson

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  31. I hate the red pen. This is exactly why I use a pretty purple pen! ;) Great post, I feel the exact same way, only I'm big on outlining my story or else it won't get written.

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  32. My first draft is always crap. And the hardest. I prefer the slower pace of the 2nd and subsequent drafts. We are weavers indeed. Love your blog and your credo; thanks for dropping by mine. Peace...

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  33. Indigo, I'm a believer in the practice of learning all the rules of any creative adventure and then throwng them all out.

    I write and rewrite in my head before I sit at the keys. My red pen is in my head. If I can't get to sleep it means something has to be reworked.

    DB

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  34. Do whatever works for you, Indigo. We all have our methods. Just never give up.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I've missed you. Working non-stop as a blood courier eats up my free time to visit my friends.

    I have another fascinating, captioned song on my post about queries :
    http://rolandyeomans.blogspot.com/2010/07/art-of-driving-in-pouring-rain-and.html

    Don't be a stranger, Roland

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  35. I fear the red pen might crush my spirit. Or rather, I might crush the red pen ;-)

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  36. I am not gifted in the area of writing. But I enjoy reading someone who is... Your talent shines Indigo. Keep up the great work!

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  37. hi indigo! it's always great to read how writers write. interesting post for a non-writer like me!

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  38. I love all your strands of words! You put it all together beautifully.

    Hugs,Rose

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  39. I am a constant editor of my writing and that of others. But I don't write novels, just scientific papers and books so far. Way different from what you are doing. Thanks for stopping by and I'm glad to know that all is right in your world.

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  40. I do not write, Indigo--I just blog. And that is ENOUGH! Glad i don't have to earn my living writing or I'd be living under the Gordon River Bridge.

    I've not been here for quite some time, it is SO good to see you are still posting from time to time.

    PEACE...and love

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  41. I have no idea what a Beta reader is! Will Google it.
    Sounds like you are one with your craft to me. And I love your attitude, too!

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  42. I cringe when it's time for the red pen. Being an A Type with delusions of perfection the first time around, I like to just throw everything out on the page (rules be damned, just like you) and have it be brilliant the first time around.

    Of course, that's not how it works and I spend a lot of time wrestling with an angel named Ego to convince myself that edits are good and help me communicate my ideas more clearly.

    Thanks for reminding me that it's okay to edit, re-do, edit some more, and still find inspiration and brilliance in my work.

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  44. SO GOOD TO READ YOUR WORDS AGAIN...THEY SOOTHE MY WEARY SOUL.
    LOVE YOU,
    CARLENE

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  45. My first time here. Struck. How cozy and inviting this space is. I love it here.

    As for writing, it's different all the time but I like to read it after writing and edit it. Sometimes I fair the draft and leave the place and come back again to see what is to be edited but then it changes all the time.

    Thanks for the nice post here.

    Joy always,
    Susan

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  46. I may be wrong here..but you don't need someone to pick apart what you write..it flows from 'your' soul..no one elses and it is your story to tell the way it flowed from you, not what someone else perceives to be right..only you know what is right and whether someone else thinks it is 'right' is of no consequence..it is yours to own and your soul that was barred...but I am a novice at writing and know there are protocols and such but feel that you do such a wonderful job of getting across what you feel and no one can improve on what comes from your heart...hope you don't ban me into oblivion for my opinion... but I just think you do marvelous without someone else injecting their view as to what is right or wrong of your wonderful works...........

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  47. I use to hate the red pen, now not so much. I always love your writing, and you deserve many compliments. I usually read and re-read my writing over and over and over. It's almost obsessive, I wish I was more of a free flower. Something to work towards I suppose.

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  48. The red pen is not to feared... but it helps if we occasionally run in circles and wave our hands about in panic ;)

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  49. There's no right or wrong way to write a book. I ususally fall somewhere in the middle of "just get the 1st draft down" and "edit as you go."

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  50. I'm like David. I get it down! And I love the red pen. LOVE!

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  51. Red pen marks aren't always bad, it sounds like you are like me! I never play by the rules. I'm a panster and I write my little heart out, I'm learning to revise before sending it off to anyone who I know would rip it to shreds that way more loose ends are tied!

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  52. there are good days and bad days. there are days the red pen is a friend and days it is the enemy. we take our motivation and good vibes and belief in ourselves any place we can durn well find it.

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Thank you for giving my silence a voice, my muse your words, and taking the time to discover my prose.