Revision has a reason

revision May 09, 2022
 

Last week in the Storytellers’ Circle weekly coaching session, I offered a quick lesson in revision that was inspired, once more, by George Saunders’ marvelous book of essays, A Swim in the Pond in the Rain. 

Saunders offers close reads of some well-loved Russian short stories with the intent of illuminating what good writing is and does. What’s not to like about that? I love the book and recommend it. But I did find myself stumbling over one section.

After offering before-and-after versions of the same sentence, one of which is clearly better than the other, Saunders explains how he knows it's better: He prefers it. 

Now, even as a kid I was never a fan of “because I said so” as a reason for anything. So this caught my eye right away!

And Saunders is not being glib, either. He’s reporting back from within his own writing and revision process, and urges other writers to be similarly observant and responsive to what’s on the page. This kind of attention to the work is absolutely necessary; on this we agree. 

But the central, practical question of why he he prefers the revised goes unexamined, and that’s what inspired the mini-lesson I offered my students last week. There are reasons for revision. It’s not just trial and error until we find something we “prefer.”

In today’s livestream I’d like to share a more extended version of this lesson with all of you. 

I believe in writing craft, and I think there is plenty we can say about why one version of a sentence is better than another. That’s what I plan to dive into today! I hope you'll join me. 


My weekly livestream about story structure, writing craft, and the mindset of the working writer happens on Wednesdays at 1 PM Pacific on YouTube. Come live and participate, and please subscribe to the channel. Or catch the replays on YouTube, or here on the blog.

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