Friday, October 24, 2008

What I Do, or Revising

As a grad student, I have a hard time explaining what exactly it is I do.

I mean, first off I can't even explain to people where I go to school. I go to Ohio University, not Ohio State University. It's in Athens, a tiny town in the country, not Columbus, the state capital. Our football team is in the MAC (which you've never heard of), not the Big 10 (which you can't get away from). OSU is the largest single-campus school in the country; OU is the oldest university in the state, first in the Northwest Territory (which gives you some idea how old it is—one year older than Joseph Smith, one year younger than Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Got that? OU, not OSU. Athens, not Columbus. Brains, not brawn, and certainly not money. Age, not size.

You don't got it.

What I do is even harder to explain than where I do it: I'm getting an MA in English. Creative writing, to be specific. Creative nonfiction, to be precise.

Creative nonfiction is a genre, like fiction or poetry. Only, unlike fiction, the stories must be true, and unlike poetry, there aren't so many line breaks. Most of the time. (The truth is that we are always stepping on each others' toes—hey, we're writers, not dancers.) To put it simply, creative nonfiction is true stories told well. It is things like personal essays, memoirs, or travel writing.

It is, really, like this blog.

But don't go getting the idea that me writing this is going to get me a degree. There is a fundamental difference between what I do for school and what I do for the web. And that difference is revising. Going back and looking again, wrestling with the words and ideas until they are as good as I can make them. It's craft. What I do is craft.

Get that? What I do is craft. Words.

You don't get it.

Which is why I've decided to share with you some of the process. On Wednesday I wrote a post called "Stars, Doubts, Girls" that wasn't like most blog posts I do. It had something more to it. I started with just a stolen phrase I thought was clever: Ash's "cosmological incest." But before I knew it, it was 2 in the morning and I had spent hours carefully laying out a story, balancing memories and observations that were nowhere near my thoughts when I started, and playing with words and timing to make it swing just right. I had been drawn in by the fun of trying to describe pink light on a red-headed girl and what I felt when I saw her. I had been drawn on by the accidental inspiration to use my initials to further the story and then drawn deeper by the need to think up as many SDG phrases as possible. In the end I felt I had come close to something, a truth both disappointing and hopeful.

Since it was a blog post, I published it then and there. But since I am a writer (and since my roommate demanded it), I'm not done with it yet. It bears revision; it can be improved. I'm going to craft it—that's what I do.

Tomorrow I'll post the first round of revision for your perusal.


Jennifer said...

That sounds fun. We can all critique the crap out of it. Hey, is that fair? Isn't that what YOU are supposed to do? Hey, what is it you do there?

Sarah said...

That's very interesting. The part I found most interesting is that when your roommate "demands" something of you, you willingly oblige. When your sister politely asks you to read a book she likes you flat out refuse. Even when it was the "Summer Of Ten Thousand Pages", or something like that.

...very interesting indeed.

Emily said... is THE Ohio University. Officially, court ruled rights to the new name "THE OHIO UNIVERSITY". So, there is a good place to start revising this post. I demand it.

Zach said...

Nice writing here, Dave. To be specific, I like that you were precise.

David Grover said...

Ouch, Zach. That hurts.

And Sarah: that book was 10,000 pages long.