Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Fixing an essay

As I've posted about before, I'm trying to fix an essay in my essay collection. I've already outlined the problems with it, so I won't go into those details. However, as far as trying to fix it is concerned, that hasn't been going very well.

At first I tried to mentally work out the kinks with this essay. Just keep going over it to figure out how to fix it. I wrote up a new outline and highlighted the point I wanted to make with it. Finally, I decided to just STOP thinking about it and just write it!

But when I sat down to write the next draft of it, I had to give it some serious thought first. The big question I kept asking myself: Is it relevant? Does it really NEED to go into this book? What EXACTLY is this essay trying to say? Why is it important? What does it offer on the theme of deaf parenting?

I recently read an essay collection, and as I read that book, I noted the various angles covered relating to the book's subject. I am trying to do the same with this book, but even as I questioned the essay's relevancy, I was still lost over what exactly this essay was trying to say.

I noted how I kept straying from my topic when I talked about how hearing parents try to "fix" their deaf kids with cochlear implants, and the psychological implications which result (the deaf child questioning their place in deaf society, among them). This didn't really belong in there because the whole book isn't about deaf kids with hearing parents, it's about a deaf parent with a hearing kid. The tables are turned in this case, and even as the topic was relevant to the study of deafness in family relationships, it just didn't belong in there.

Still, even as I asked myself questions and constantly went over the outline, I still couldn't figure out how to put this essay together. I still couldn't decide on what exactly this essay was trying to say.

So I just wrote it. I wrote it anyway, and even then I couldn't decide if it was right. I even asked my husband to read the first paragraph for some input. His reaction? "It doesn't tell me anything new." Maybe that's what's wrong with it. It has recycled information. Maybe if I tried doing more research on the topic, I could get a better idea of what I want this essay to say. Also, I could go over the other essays to see what's covered, and what isn't.

Additionally, I am keeping one very important detail in mind: This IS the first essay in the book. The very first one. Readers checking the book out in a bookstore won't bother reading the Introduction or Foreword to decide if they will buy the book or not; they read Chapter One. Or, in this case, the very first essay. (A friend of mine has a rule of reading the first 10 pages of every book before he'll decide whether or not he'll buy it.) That said, this essay IS important, because it represents what the rest of the book is going to offer. It's going to represent the kind of "attitude" the author has about this topic, the kind of approach he/she takes writing these essays, the kind of tone used and whether or not the essays will provide readers with something to think about or something new or something that will inspire/motivate them. This particular essay is the first one everybody will judge the book with, and that's a lot of pressure thrown in. So that is why the question of relevancy is so important. And that is why this particular essay must be handled with care. If it takes several drafts to get it right, then it's several drafts which I will write. I'll keep writing it and keep writing it, until the essay says exactly what I originally set out to say with it.

I'm also going to try to hunt down a few beta readers. I wanted to wait until I finished editing/revising the whole thing, but since I'm at odds with the very first essay in this book, maybe it wouldn't hurt to get just this one essay read so that I can move on to the others. It might help make the rest of the job easier, to say the least.

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