by Bo Keeley
(Swans - March 14, 2011) Aspiring writers study how pros edit to evolve a personal technique -- I know. Mine differs, starting with the monitor upside-down so the print flows right to left to ease eyestrain.
I undertake a story about, say, an adventurer fleeing a hippo, with a "skeleton outline" of single phrases that will trigger future paragraphs. This chronological overview dashes out in about two minutes.
The next step is to pick one phrase and write its paragraph quickly, without looking back. Continue to another paragraph, progressing non-sequentially, if you like, until all are done. The story's first draft is in hand.
Now begins what some term the edit chore, but not by this technique. Edit drafts two and three briskly, each in a paragraph sequence that differs from the previous. That is, if the edit of draft two began with the 7th paragraph, then edit draft three beginning with the 5th or 10th paragraph. The result is freshness and stamina, and the analogy is entering a weight room to alternate exercises, rather than repeating the same old sets for a finer product.
I make three drafts, and then the polished fourth.
The focus and speed of each edit varies. The first is a slow once-over for grammar, sentence structure, and transitions.
The second is bottom-up for me, i.e., beginning with the last paragraph of the story and progressing to the opening, at a moderate rate with an ear for cadence and an eye on a thesaurus. (A strong story, especially news, may be read from the last paragraph to first.)
The third and final edit is necessarily quick from lead to last period to smooth cadence.
You don't need to knock yourself out writing and self-editing a one-page essay in forty-five minutes.
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About the Author
Bo Keeley is a retired veterinarian, former publisher, author of seven books on sports and adventure, national paddleball and racquetball champion, commodities consultant, school teacher, psychiatric technician, traveler to 96 countries, and executive adventure guide who has been featured in Sports Illustrated and other national publications as an alternative adventurer. (back)