We at One Story are so proud and excited about the 2nd annual Workshop for Writers we’re planning for this summer that last Thursday we shared a small fraction of the week’s events. An awesome crowd of about 40 writers joined us at the Old American Factory in Brooklyn for our “taste test” craft lecture, a preview of the type of lectures offered during our summer workshop. After a short cocktail and some delicious cheese, Hannah Tinti spoke about revision and her drafting process. Apparently, winning the PEN/Magid Award means she is a badass editor. If you couldn’t make it, don’t worry–I’m about to go over some of the insightful and easy-to-follow advice that Tinti doled out. If you did make it, please share what you found most helpful in the comments.
1. First, you’ll need something to revise. Completing your first draft is an accomplishment in itself, one which involves just getting the words on the page and turning off your “internal editor.” Tinti suggests you reward yourself with a drink, an integral step in finishing every draft.
2. When revising your first draft you must keep in mind the major tenets of fiction: plot/structure, character, dialogue, setting, point of view, and voice. Looking at each of these tenets you must identify your weaknesses, cut, add, and tighten. It can be a painful process, one that can damage your self-esteem and ruin your day. Tinti reminded us that most people don’t even finish a first draft, let alone a second. Remember: You are brilliant, you deserve another drink.
3. The third draft means line edits. Grab your style guide and check your grammar. (I sleep with a copy of Gary Lutz and Diane Stevenson’s Grammar Desk Reference under my pillow and keep up with Phillip B. Corbett over at the Times.) Is that colon supposed to be semi? Is that em dash supposed to be an en dash? Also keep in mind repetition of both words and sentence structure. How many times did you use the word “conniption?” Conciseness is key so make sure you avoid complex verbs and adverbs. Tinti suggests you underline every adverb and replace it with an action. (Turn “’How dare you,’ she said angrily,” into “’How dare you,’ she said, stubbing out her cigarette.”) The third draft is also where you can play around with dialogue tags. Using Darth Vader’s much-famed line from Star Wars, Tinti showed how tag placement greatly alters the reading of dialogue. “’I am your father,’ he said.” Does not carry the same dramatic pause as “’I,’ he said, ‘am your father.” This draft is a technical and tiring one but in the end it is important to remember: You are brilliant, you deserve a drink.
4. You have grown very close to your piece at this point. Rather than having another argument with the voice in your head (mine is Sir Michael Caine), you should show it to a your writing group or a few trusted readers. When speaking with your readers, first find out general impressions and keep your mouth shut – you do not need to defend your story. Ask the readers what specific parts they remembered – these are often the parts that you wrote best. Ask them what confused them – this is where your writing is weaker or where plot holes occur. Ask them what they thought the story was about. You’ve told your readers that you wouldn’t take their criticism personally but it is still hard to hear. Tinti suggests crying and having two beers. And of course, remember that you are brilliant.
5. To close, Tinti provided two drafts of D.H. Lawrence’s “Odour of Chrysanthemums,” The early draft is written with the deftness you expect of Lawrence. The final draft is improved by adding sensory details, adding a character, focusing the point of view and changing the last line from “So was the terror lifted off their hearts,” to “None of them spoke till they were far from the wakeful children.” Though less dramatic, the latter line manages to hit harder.
Tinti will be giving one of five craft lectures that supply expertise and advice as part of the One Story Workshop for Writers this July 24th – July 29th. We will also hold morning workshops and evening panels with New York’s literary professionals–MFA directors, agents, and editors. It is an excellent opportunity for any writer considering the next step in her career, whether she is trying to publish her first story, get into a great MFA program, find an agent for her first book or just develop her fiction skills. For more information on how to apply, please go here.