Ramona Ausubel is faculty at IAIA and I heard her speak this last summer about the revision process. She’s a master storyteller and the insights she offered were practical, inspirational and specific She asserted that it’s really important to slow down when thinking about how to revise, especially when one is trying to make sense of the heap of the advice one might get after finishing a draft. Finding one’s approach to revision is key, and what works for her is what she calls the “black hole” strategy.
She offered these steps:
- Consider the black hole to which all things are related in the piece – what is the story about? Everything has to part of that swirl – sucked into this. She provided the example of her current in-progress novel. It’s about money – what it can get and what it can’t get you.
- Next, consider the ways the story isn’t yours. Underline the places where someone else’s ideas or phrasing is showing up. Think of these as open doorways as piece of yourself that you’re afraid of – these are possibilities; doorways for us to walk toward and through. She also asserted that the old adage of “get rid of your darlings” is bad advice; instead, we need to dive into the darlings and write the shit out of them.
- Think about the opposing forces in our work beyond the usual tensions of humor and sadness, etc. Make a list of 10-20 elements/things in the work – what’s pulling against it? What’s the opposite pole in the ground? Work with these opposing poles to create deeper tension, so that readers feel the tug. As we engage these opposing forces, they will strike an emotional note on the wire strung between the two poles.
- Take inventory; look around the room of our material. Underline the objects in the draft underline it and ask ourselves, if we had to call the prop people, would it be worth the time and expense to keep this object in the scene, then, consider what the off label use of said objects might be and dive in. She shared the example of cabbage soup, how on the eve of a girl’s departure from her family they sat down to eat soup. Ramona asked herself – what would be an unusual thing to do with this soup? And the girl began to wash her hands in the soup – and the family joined her.
I loved the unusual ways to frame revision offered in Ramona’s talk – it felt like at the end of her presentation, I had more tools in the revision kit, giving me more power to take my work deeper.