Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Draft

I've never really revised the things I write. Sure, I spell-check, and I check for those common instances where my grammatical intention shifts gear mid-sentence, leading to nonsense, but I don't usually write something with a structure in mind from the get-go, or with planning, or with a series of drafts that lead to a refined final product. I write like a talk, basically.

Doing debate in my youth is probably to blame. Among the tasks was "Impromptu," where you are given a topic and a timer starts counting down, requiring you to build and give a speech on the stop, from scratch. It's not as hard as you'd think, but it takes a little getting used to. Once you can do it, writing like you talk is easy, (my typing isn't nearly as fast as my speaking). But it tends to make the process of revision all the more unpleasant, because you've already got a coherent document in hand.

What's really disturbing about it, though, is that if I return to something I wrote a year ago, I don't recognize myself in it. Oh, I'll likely remember what my basic argument was, but not my specific turns of phrase or my examples. The act itself happened quickly and without extensive consideration, so it didn't stick in my memory. The result is a text that I usually agree with, and that seems (to me) well-argued, but that somehow no longer has my "voice."

The problem, I suppose is partly that I don't think very hard about what I'm saying/writing as I'm saying/writing it. If I met someone who talks in the same style as myself, I likely wouldn't notice the similarity. So seeing my own stream of consciousness fixed in place is an unusual experience for me.

A few times, I've managed to paint myself into a corner. In trying to write a persuasive memo, I started with the basic facts and began to build them toward a specific goal (in the media, it might be called "propaganda"), but about mid-way through, I realized that I'd managed to present those facts in precisely the wrong light, making it impossible for me to come to the conclusion I wanted. Naturally, I began fresh and had no problem the second time. But I could have avoided the problem in the first place by laying some groundwork.

Still, the next time you're having a conversation, try to detach a little part of yourself and have it pay attention to what you're saying and how you're saying it. Try to step back and see whether the logical flow you understand your phrases to use as linkage actually makes sense. You might be surprised at how strange your speech is. People in movies don't talk like real people - they stutter, shift gears mid-sentence, make big logical jumps. In my case, my writing suffers from the same symptoms, though I don't really notice until later on.

So it goes. I'll probably have the same experience re-reading my earlier posts when I eventually decide to do so.


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