Writing and Revising with Ann Hood and Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

When I was in my MFA program, I felt like the luckiest person in the world.  My classmates were amazing, my teachers brilliant.  My job in that course of study was to learn, as best I could, how to build a story.  Ann Hood told us that whatever our latent talent, we were there to learn how fiction works, and how and why it doesn’t.  She taught us to be merciless with the things we thought we’d been so clever about, and, in short, to blow them up.

Joseph Conrad reminds us that revision literally means to see anew.  Ann might say that revision isn’t a necessary evil but a necessary good.  Someone else said “anyone can write, but only a writer can revise.”   Most honest writers will tell you that the story is really written in the revision.

Beginning writers sometimes feel so beholden to their initial muse that they mystify everything and end up producing very little.  Writing is a craft.  Yes, it requires inspiration.  There are days when I stare at the page or the screen and do very little with my hands.  Then there are days when the ideas and language flow.  I can’t control which day is which, but I can do by best, on the slow days, to prepare myself for the fast ones.  The later are more thrilling, for sure.  But they don’t come without the former.  Feeling stuck?  Read a book.  Watch a well-written show.  Listen to a song that keeps raising the narrative stakes.

20 thoughts on “Writing and Revising with Ann Hood and Joseph Conrad

  1. I dig the reference to J. Conrad. Yes, rewriting is the heart of writing. My post HARD TIMES gives an example (posted on Friday). And your previous post about adverbs, I touch upon in my Sunday post, a writing tip. Carry on, please. Fight the good fight.

  2. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
    Keep on writing adverbless flashbacks with amazing dialogue. You’re doing great.

  3. For me, revision is an attempt to take an approximation and make it a better approximation, ever with the hope that it will more closely match what I feel or think or see and want to communicate. So my new prayer for you, Chris, is not only for perseverance but for a goodly dissonance to goad you in your revisioning process.

  4. ….I just always liked Jim Morris’ line in The Rookie. #notasrefinedaseveryoneelsecommenting

  5. Luckies to you!!

    Do not put statements in the negative form.
    And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
    If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a
    great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
    Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
    Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
    De-accession euphemisms.
    If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
    Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
    Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.
    -William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”

  6. Write on, Brother Mighty Cloud! My goal is 1000 words of my novel a day…so far, no cigar. I’ve given much thought to entering an MFA program solely for the purpose of finishing my novel by force. And, umm, to learn things.

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