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Although Robin Black’s workshop focused mostly on how to approach your story after you had a first draft, she did briefly discuss what a first draft should be about. In your first draft of a story, you should just go for it, she said. Put everything in there and don’t edit yourself. A first draft should be treated like a dream analysis, so once you’re done with your first draft, you should search the draft for symbols about what the story is about, and what matters to you as a writer. If you have trouble finding those symbols, find a reader who can tell you where the hot spots are in the story. Your subconscious is smarter than you, and the depth of the story will come from revising with that in mind. (I said it was brief, didn’t I?)
Revision, or How to Be a Writer
When you revise a story, you need to be ruthless about allowing your story to completely change if it’s necessary. Don’t be in love with your work. If you “stay stupid” during the revision process (i.e. don’t believe that you know what your story is REALLY about), you’ll be more open to finding your true story. It’s like finding a dead body, and pulling out the still-beating heart (more dead bodies!). To illustrate this, Black shared that she throws out 80% of her writing, and just threw out an entire novel and has started a new one. Her typical process when she writes a first draft is to then write twenty more drafts over the course of six months before she considers a story completed. “What you’ve done doesn’t matter,” she said, “it’s what you end up having written that matters most.”
Revision should not be copy-editing, although that’s what most people think revision is. You have to forget about the three weeks of work you just threw out, because “the point is the story, the point is the story, the point is the story.” In order to emphasize the universal bigger meanings (like mortality, religion, etc.) the reader needs from the story, you need to be BOLD. Look at the writing you love–it’s not timid. You don’t want everyone to agree that your story is “pretty good”–you want readers who love it and readers who hate it. Black shared that during workshops, 12 out of 13 people hated her stories. She chose to listen to the one person who loved them.
In order to deal with the revision process in a way that will deepen your stories and make them successful, you have to own what it is that you have to write, and you have to learn how to process it. “It’s so much more about process than what most people are emotionally ready to deal with,” she said. And yet the best stories are the ones where you can tell the writer as given it all.
There are still some things in my notes that didn’t quite make it here, but I believe I’ve covered most of the important points (everything felt important that day). Later, after the workshop, I had an opportunity to talk with Robin (notice the switch to first name familiarity?) more in depth about how she managed to write what she has in the time she has, with the particular constraints (and we all have them) in her life that compete for her time and attention. She said she had to “be maniacal” about her writing.
And I know what she means. It doesn’t mean you don’t do your job, whether your job is your family or out in the workforce. It means that when you have the time to write, you need to be absolutely focused on it, because something else will always come up. It’s something I’ve struggled with for years, and yet I’ve just reached the point where I believe I can focus in a way I haven’t before. These words have become my new motto.
So thank you to Robin Black for being our first guest in the Fly-By Writer’s Project, and thank you to Lighthouse Writers Workshop for continuing to provide innovative and exciting programs which educate and inspire our growing community! Hmmmm… It looks like I have about an hour for my writing before I need to run some errands and get ready for tonight’s Lighthouse Lit Fest Kick-Off Party. Pardon me while I go be maniacal.