a revision/rewriting example
July 3, 2015
I’ve been doing something kind of different lately. Different for me, anyway. I’ve been looking at some of my old writing — and fixing it. And it’s been kind of mind blowing, some of this stuff I put in the trunk because it never sold — I know how to fix it now. I have this novella I wrote 10 or 12 years ago. It never sold, but I’ve been working it over to turn it into a novel proposal. It’s actually nice, because I’m so clearly a much better writer now. Clearly. I’ve got the old draft sitting on my desk, and while I’m using it as a guide, I’m pretty much rewriting it as I type scenes into a new file.
Because I’m such a big advocate of revision, I thought I’d show you what that looks like.
The old version, from 10+ years ago:
Just two weeks ago, I was safe in my ivory tower. Assistant Professor of comparative literature, with nothing to worry about but when I had to be at my office for office hours. Well, publishing and getting tenure, but those were too big to worry about right now.
Technically, I didn’t really have to be at my office for office hours, since students never actually came to my office, not like they did in the old days. But they did call with all the usual questions and I had to be near my screen to answer them.
“Professor Cox?” said one of my Intro to Mythology students. I touched the screen to open a chat window and saw the face of a nineteen year old’s desperation looking back at me.
“I know I was supposed to turn in my paper yesterday, and I know I didn’t, but I was really hoping I could get an extension, just an extra day or two–”
I had a script for this. “You got the syllabus along with everyone else, you know my policy–no extensions.”
The anguish in the young man’s twisted face showed the pain of someone who’d never had to worry about anything worse than a late paper. “But Professor Cox, I really need this grade. . .”
I let him go on for a minute. It was part of the script. Finally, I let out a heavy sigh. “All right. Just this once. But I need it by the weekend and it had better be good.”
Just like that, he became the happiest person in the world. “Thank you, thank you so much.“
And the new version (still rough, I haven’t really proofread):
I really shouldn’t have been here. But here I was. I hadn’t decided yet if I was sorry. Give me a couple of days.
Just a week ago, I was safe in my ivory tower, nothing to worry about but camping in my office for office hours. Well, publishing and getting tenure, department politics, course loads. But those were too big to really worry about.
Not that students actually visited office hours anymore. It was all emails and messaging.
“PROF COX PLS NEED 2 MOR DAYS FOR ESSAY HELPP!!!!111!!!!!!”
I emailed back a file of the syllabus–that they’d gotten at the start of the term along with everyone else–with the due date highlighted. If that made me a terrible professor, so be it.
If any of them ever actually showed up in person, I would give them an extension.
In a word, the second version has more personality than the first. It’s punchier, with less exposition, it’s less mechanical. The exchange with the student? That’s basically irrelevant to the story and is mostly there for contrast, to show Addie’s normal life. I reduced from 10 paragraphs to 5, and it conveys all the same information, and it’s funnier now. At least I think it is.
The new section has voice. That’s what I was missing in my writing 10+ year ago.