Monday, October 17, 2011

Home-Made Revision Workshop - Clarity - pitfalls and peaks

My NaBlo posts are in the form of letters to my journal about my revision process. Along the way, I'll include Home-Made Revision Workshop posts, and my Friday Challenges.

Dear Journal,
It is a Monday and you know what that means? You don't? Me neither, except I always have the faintest whiff of 'new day, clean notebook' on a Monday. After all, it is when we start diets, new jobs, the school week and so forth. I realized, after reading my little sticky note at the top of all my NaBlo posts, that I intended to continue the Home-Made Revision Workshop series. It is kind of hard to tell, since all these letters to you, dear journal, are about my revision process, but the idea was to go to other sources - especially the amazing book, The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell. So here goes.

Today's workshop topic is clarity. We all, as writers, know how important clarity is, but many of us have a stunningly different idea of what it means. Here is what the Oxford Dictionary has to say:

  • the quality of being clear, in particular:.
  • the quality of being coherent and intelligible:for the sake of clarity, each of these strategies is dealt with separately
  • the quality of being easy to see or hear; sharpness of image or sound:the clarity of the picture
  • the quality of being certain or definite:it was clarity of purpose that he needed
  • the quality of transparency or purity:the crystal clarity of water


Middle English (in the sense ‘glory, divine splendour’): from Latin claritas, from clarus'clear'. The current sense dates from the early 17th century
Is that clear? I do like that its origin was 'glory, divine splendour' and isn't that just so? If you use words that are fresh, metaphors that aren't tired, and people understand what it is you mean - how glorious is that?
Here is what Susan Bell quotes on Clarity from Somerset Maugham "[A cause] of obscurity is that the writer is himself not quite sure of his meaning. He has a vague impression of what he wants to say, but has not...exactly formulated it in his mind, and it is natural enough that he should not find a precise expression for a confused idea." 
In other words - if you don't the hell know what you mean do not expect others to, and if they don't, call them dunderheads! (that is a Jan Morrisonism)
I know where my prose is lacking clarity because I get overwhelmingly sleepy when I read it. And it isn't the sleepiness of being bored, although I imagine that is in there, it is the sleepiness that comes from trying to wrestle out a meaning that hasn't been articulated or understood by the originator - even if I'm the originator! It happens to me in therapy sessions too, and when it does, I know the client is spinning themselves a story, so I take it as my cue to stop them and ask them to make their point more clear. 
Revision is where we sweep away anything that doesn't enrich our story. We make our points clear because we've removed the debris or furbelows and lacy bits surrounding those points. If we do clear the non-essentials away and we are still baffled - back to the drawing board.
I started a contemplative photography course last night. I've taken it before, taught by a teacher of this teacher, but I've drifted and want to be brought back to the practice. This is a good way to do it. It is also helpful as cross-training for my writing practice. In contemplative photography - you have the initial flash of perception and you try to form the equivalent. Part of that is to recognize what caught your eye - where the perception begins and ends. That is what we are doing when we are clearing for clarity. If I am walking in the woods and a flash of colour grabs me, my next thought might mess it up - oh, if this leaf is good, so must the green bits around it be, and that weird shaped stick, and so on. I think I do this in my writing. I want to relate my perception on a woman who is being made to understand the real meaning of connection by her crazy circumstances. Along the way, two bachelor recluses show up, and I am entranced by them (and my clever birthing of them!). I need them in the story but I don't need them to be a big deal. I need to cut away all the cleverness and just show how they are part of what woke my protagonist up to the various meanings of family.
Two things are happening when I do this - one is to rid the writing of superfluity, the other is to expand the parts that are essential. Shrink and expand - over and over again - like the diastole/systole of our heart's contractions.
One of the biggest traps for writers on the road to clarity, is the desire to be subtle. We want to be thought of as very clever and that means we sometimes obscure our meanings even from ourselves. I will say no more on this. Just hunt the obscure down and make it clear. You will get when you've gone simple and when you've gone ornate - keep to the middle path.
OK, dear journal, now I must get into my car and go meet with my editor. I am going to discuss some of the paths I wish to take my manuscript down. I find it is very helpful to say these things out loud - to you - to her and to my writing and non-writing pals. Feedback is essential.
Today's picture is clear. I am revising my pow wow chapters and so thought this might be helpful!


Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - What an absolutely lovely 'photo! And thank you for bringing up clarity. You make such a well-taken point that really, clarity is removing or changing anything that does not add to the story. When that's gone, clarity is also adding things that do enhance the story. Then the picture comes into sharper focus...

KarenG said...

The only road to clarity that I know of it practice, practice, practice.

Words A Day said...

hi jan, I'm taking a while off blogging, but will drop by to see how your doing, thanks for all the inspirational posts, and also the ones I can emphathise with! (am I deluding myself?)
Keep writing & take care x

Words A Day said...

ps I ramble in the woods:)

L.C. Frost said...

"I know where my prose is lacking clarity because I get overwhelmingly sleepy when I read it. And it isn't the sleepiness of being bored, although I imagine that is in there, it is the sleepiness that comes from trying to wrestle out a meaning that hasn't been articulated or understood by the originator - even if I'm the originator!"

Yes, yes, and yes. I totally have this happen to me, too. I'll be going over a revision I'd done and sit there, thinking "What on earth was I going for??" Into the trash file it goes. Great post, Jan!