Saturday, 17 March 2007

A busy week, and a bit on drafting and editing

Thank God last week is finally over I can get back to just being run off my feet!

I submitted my proposal/bid for funding on Thursday, which felt good, but rather scary too - a bit like handing a child over to someone you've never met. I just hope it manages to get through the long list of stages on time, and reaches its destination with all the boxes ticked, not to mention looking as pristine as it did on Thursday morning!

Teaching on Thursday and Friday ranged from inspirational and fun, to dentistry i.e. pulling teeth - my own! Was this due to my own exhaution, or it being the end of the week for them too? Whatever it was, there seems to be a general unwillingness by students to enter into discussions these days. They seem to want more and more teaching and less and less thinking, debating, chewing the fat. In response to "What do you think?" there are sighs and shrugs, indignatious looks of, "Aren't you supposed to tell us that?!" My favourite lecturer/teacher ever, was Pam Jackson. She never told us the answers. She gave us the text and discussed it with us. She was/is brilliant. She knew her stuff, but she encouraged us to find out for ourselves. She explained difficult concepts but she did not read the text for us - that was our job - and I loved her for it. She allowed long pauses, patiently waiting for someone to speak up, and we always did. I've been trying to do the same - leave long pauses - but how long do I wait? An hour? Two?? Until the seminar is over?!

Today I've been putting together a handout on drafting and editing for my writing students. It's taken me all day, but it's been a worthwhile process, as it's made me break down what it is we actually do when we move on to the second draft and beyond. I've been re-reading The Creative Writing Coursebook by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs, particularly the sections by James Friel and Paul Magrs.

Here's a summary of some of the points I thought important.

1. You’ve got to be quite brutal with yourself at times.
2. If something isn’t working, get rid of it.
3. If it’s too opaque, too obscure, get rid of it.
4. If it’s too explicit, too expository, get rid of it.
5. Get rid of lines that are not meant for the reader, but notes to ourselves.
6. Readers like to be told just enough to work it out for themselves.
7. Readers do not like to be told everything, making them patronised and redundant.
8. Revision can go on forever. Part of the skill is knowing when to stop.
9. Take out all the material that anyone could have written so that you are left with something that only you could have written.
10. Show your work and listen to feedback. Some will be useful or surprising , at other times it will be spurious and partisan. Utilize or jettison it at will but listen to it all before you make up your mind.
11. Dialogue: is this how the character really talks? Is that what they’d really say?
12. Ask how each component connects to the broader theme.
13. Is the plot twist necessary or does it seem contrived?
14. Have you shown where you should have told, or vice-versa? (Lindsay Clarke)
15. Are we being dragged through the story too quickly in one part?

1. Be Kind – Don’t judge your first draft too harshly.
2. Be Patient – Put it aside for a while and let it brew.
3. Be Calm – Type up your first draft without changes, even though you may be itching to. Just see what is there in black and white first.
4. Be Colourful – “Once you have read it, read it again. This time attack it with red pen, pencil, scissors, glue, cut it, cross things out, tick the good bits.” Or like Tony Warren, get a set of markers and go through it making a line in the margin; one colour for plot, another for dialogue, for subplots, character development, style policing etc.
5. Be Versatile – John Steinbeck says be 3 people; one to speculate, one to criticise, and one to correlate. It usually turns out to be a fight! (And Dorothea Brande says 2: Creative, and Editor – it amounts the same.)
6. Be Curious – Ask questions. All the time. Is this what I want? What is it I want?
7. Be Heard – Read your work aloud. Note where you stumble over your own prose.
8. Be Flexible – Sometimes great changes must be made. Salman Rushdie wrote Midnight’s Children, all 900 pages, in the 3rd person, and then decided to tell it in the first person. That meant every sentence had to be changed.
9. Be Meticulous – Sentence level.
10. Be Dependent – Check for punctuation/spellings/grammar. Get help if you need it.
11. Be Independent – Use readers but don’t abuse them. Know your own anxieties, worries, fears.
12. Be Stealthy – Most drafts are either under written or over written, or a mixture of the two.

After all of this I'm giving them a first draft of something to play with. I wonder what they'll do with it?!


liz fenwick said...

It's an excellent tool to work with thanks!!!!

hesitant scribe said...

Hi Liz - glad it's useful! Looking at it now, there's rather a lot of it!

Harriet said...

Those writing points look good -- hope they find them useful. I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in finding students unable to discuss or contribute. I have noticed this forcibly lately and as you say, they are often indignant that you are not 'teaching' them. When I was doing my first degree, there was a tutor who went in for silences -- she once gave some students a poem to comment on, asked them what they thought, and as no-one answered, sat in total silence for 45 minutes. I have never had the nerve to do it.
I hope Pam Jackson reads your blog. A great loss to teaching, her early retirement.

hesitant scribe said...

Harriet - I'm relieved it's not just me! I wish I had the nerve to wait 45 minutes - especially as 3 mins can feel like an hour when there's a room full of expectant/bored/confused/irritated faces looking back at you!

Sadly, PJ's not on the net at the moment... we'll have to print everything off and snail mail it to her!

JJ said...

That's very useful. I've actually got that book but haven't looked at it for ages. I shall dig it out again.

Being overseas you hear lots about what people think about different education systems. The Thai system is very much a learn by rote system. The students are fed information, expected to learn it and regurgitate it. At no point (I am told) do they need to apply any information).

So the well educated Thais (and many, many other nationalities) are terribly keen to get their children into International Schools. There is a well held belief (still) that the British education system is the best in the world. I am sad to hear your comments Hesitant Scribe and Harriet, because I think that children ARE indeed expecting to be told what to think.

Before I stopped work with children, I worked in a university, and the students would come in complaining about the lecturers not teaching; they were armed with an opinion that since they were paying fees they had a right to 'proper teaching.' But I often felt that this was about the teacher doing all the work.

Doing higher education used to be called 'reading' a subject, and there was a belief that the student did the driving while directed and supported by the staff. It shouldn't be about spoon feeding; they have to take responsibility for their own learning.

hesitant scribe said...

I don't know where education is going wrong, and it certainly isn't through a lack of work on the teachers' side. I see a lot of teachers struggling to meet "targets", to get X percent through at X level.

But it's tempting to give them everything on a plate, because whatever the level, we're short on time and high on deadlines; we have targets to meet, and above all, we're afraid, as teachers, of failing our students by not sharing our knowledge.

I do believe that rote learning has a place in education - for basic facts. Multiplication tables, for example. My daughter (now 14) was taught to work them out, to understand them. My husband and I were taught by rote. The result? We know our tables by heart, and she doesn't. Or verb conjugations for foreign languages. I can still recite avoir and etre whilst my daughter doesn't even know that "J'ai" is part of the verb "avoir".

I keep trying to sum this up in few paragraphs and then deleting half an essay - it's such a complex topic. I really don't know where it's going wrong - is it teaching, the curriculum, the admin, or is it the media, this bite-size, snippet mentality, this "I want it NOW!" generation?

All I can say for certain is that I believe learning should be a process of developing an inquiring mind. Students are not "customers" in my mind and never will be.

I want my students to develop a love of learning, of feeling intrinsic reward from getting a higher mark than last time. I want to make them ask questions and help them to find out the answers. By the end of their first year in university, I want them to get a kick out of finding out for themselves, without asking - to come back armed with their findings and discuss it, share it with others.

At HE level, we don't have to give them all the answers, and we shouldn't, because if we do, we are failing as teachers by robbing them of the joys of discovery, and the merits of autonomous learning.

There. That's all I wanted to say!

Shelleybobcat said...

As a student at the moment can i just say that it is equally difficult for the students who do want a discussion to speak up as it can at times feel like you are the only one there doing it and if i wanted to have a converstaion with myself i could lie in bed all day doing just that.
I personally - being a mature student- don't want to always be the one speaking up as it can be quite intimidating to younger people especially as at school they are now spoon fed information required to help them pass exams without having to really do any work. This is from a young age as well now having a daughter who is 7 and getting ready to sit her SATs i know this from experience.
By the way LIsa your new blonde business looks fab - very glam
Shell xx

hesitant scribe said...

Hi Shell,

I know what it feels like to be on the other side of the desk, as it were, as I was a mature student too. I can tell you it is worse though as the tutor because you start to feel that if there's no discussion it's your fault that students aren't inspired/haven't been given enough confidence to speak by you etc.

I am glad to report that by the end of the module, overall, we had some great discussions in my lit class, though the first years still need lots more encouragement!

As for our kids - I also have a 7 year old - I guess what we can do is ask them their opinion and get them trying to figure out things for themselves from now rather than when they're 18!

hesitant scribe said...

p.s. thanks for comments on the blonde business!