Michelle Barker's books on Goodreads
Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)

The Beggar King The Beggar King
reviews: 8
ratings: 21 (avg rating 4.00)

Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories
reviews: 4
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.07)

Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales
reviews: 4
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.79)

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Roald Dahl, Revision…and Peaches

So this guy moves in across the street. Says his name is James.

 

Yes, Roald Dahl has been on my mind lately. Recently I came across an old (1988) interview with him by Todd McCormack about his writing process. Mr. McCormack asked him what it was like to write a book.

 

Mr. Dahl: “…rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down.” (Check this out to hear Mr. Dahl’s complete answer, spoken by the man himself.)

 

But that, according to Dahl, was only the beginning. You keep taking that long walk, day after day, “getting different views of the same landscape really.” He calls it a “very very long slow process.” Which about sums up the revision work I’m doing on my novel these days. Very long. Very slow.

 

There are a few things I love about Dahl’s answer. First, he speaks to the word ‘revision’ in a specific (and poetic) way. Revising a piece of writing is not just a matter of adding in a few commas and correcting your spelling mistakes. It is a re-visioning of the landscape of your story, seeing it with new eyes. Coming at it from a different angle, perhaps.

 

Second, his answer is honest. Revision is not a slapdash job. It’s not a question of being satisfied with ‘good enough’. You want to get it right. And that takes time, patience, and focus.

 

I know when I’m not focussed. I’ll look back at the page I thought I’d just read and realize I hadn’t been paying attention. Not good. So I do it again. Revision involves inserting oneself into the real time of the story and replaying it, in detail, with every sense alert. A strategy that works surprisingly well is to read one’s work out loud. If there are faults in diction, rhythm or logic, they become immediately apparent. So do pet phrases and outright mistakes.

 

In his excellent book, A Passion for Narrative, Jack Hodgins includes a chapter on revision that is worth looking at. The bottom line: don’t be lazy. And don’t be afraid to get blood on the floor. Darlings will die. It hurts, but chances are you won’t miss them once they’re gone. I know I never do.

 

Now, back to that giant peach to figure out who this new neighbour really is.