Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sometimes, the best thing to do is step away

This week, I have been working on trying to fix up an essay in my deaf parenting book. This particular essay received harsh criticism from a beta reader (well, "harsh" as in "she never sent back any feedback on it after I sent an essay that had the same mistakes she'd complained about in another essay"). Even though I don't dispute what the essay says, I do see how it is saying what I want it to say in the wrong way. One thing I have learned during this lovely torture of revising the essays is that some of them are just "preachy." I might as well be standing on a soapbox spouting all of this stuff!

No, that's not the kind of book I want it to be. I don't want it to be some "manifesto" or "mission statement for deaf parents." It's an essay collection. I wanted it to tell stories, in the form of essays, which will convey the messages and insights which I am trying to get across to readers. If it's preachy, they won't read it. But if it's entertaining, and kind of like a story, then that might attract more attention.

Of course, it's not easy trying to write about experiences that took place 6-7 years ago with complete accuracy. I have been literally racking my brain trying to remember things, just so I could relate what I learned during the early years of being a deaf parent in a way that is more true-to-life. I have to keep asking myself, what exactly happened at that point in time that made me reach this conclusion in the essay? What was I trying to say? What was I doing? What was I thinking?

Fortunately, I used to be a heavy journal writer, so looking back on old journals has helped. Still, a lot of my journals were destroyed after I moved out of California (thank you, neighbors who refused to allow us access to our personal belongings in the garage!), but some things are still fresh in my mind. Also, old e-mails help, and I was able to review all of these things to help me revise the essays. (Yes, I do save old e-mails! LOL I even have old chats saved, too, but don't really read them.)

But ONE ESSAY was giving me big trouble. I tried and tried to revise it, but to no avail. I just didn't get it "right."

Even with one revision I did this morning, I hated it. I hated what I was writing. I just KNEW it was not how the essay should be. I kept writing it, anyway, because I knew I had to get this "junk" out of my head first. Before I could do anything else with this essay.

But halfway through the essay, I had to stop working on it. After all, nothing will get accomplished if I ended up starving to death!

So I got up from the desk and went to the kitchen to get something to eat. I'd only had coffee, which usually helps me to get through writing something decent in the mornings. But this time, coffee failed me. Maybe actual food would help. I grabbed a box of cereal, got a bowl out of the cabinet, watched as the cereal poured into the bowl...then it struck me. It literally came to me like a bolt of lightning. I knew EXACTLY how the essay should be! I knew EXACTLY how I should write it. Eureka! I've got it!

I hurriedly went through my meal, opened a new document on the computer, and my fingers started flying over the keys as the words came pouring out. I didn't care for typos. I didn't care about "that darn Shift key" sticking again. I just typed. And typed and typed.

Gee, this is getting long, I thought, noting I was now on page 3. But I couldn't stop now. There were more words to type! More things to say!

When I finished typing what I HOPED would be the final revision of that essay, a wave of satisfaction went through me. THIS is how the essay should be, I thought. It was perfect, similar to the way I wrote the others. (Like creative nonfiction. Emphasis on..."creative.") I didn't care if I did not get the exact words I said correct; how the heck could I remember exactly what I said 7 years ago?? It wasn't possible. Still, I did use quotes that got across what I was asking about. I give myself permission to misquote myself. (Ha!) The quotes were still good and the essay got across everything I wanted it to say, which is what the original version tried to say. Of course, it needs editing and probably some tightening. But at least the foundation was in place. I got it right this time, on my fourth try.

And all it took to survive that week-long revision nightmare was just stopping the writing and stepping away from it for a while.

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  • At 10:09 AM , Blogger colbymarshall said...

    It's true...sometimes moving away gives a lot more perspective. I need to do that in more aspects of my life than writing at the moment.

  • At 9:17 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Thanks for the comment, Colby. I hope that works out for you. :)

  • At 6:45 PM , Blogger Joleene Naylor said...

    A shower usually does it for me, so when I get really frustrated, I just go take a sporadic shower, LOL!

  • At 4:02 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Such great information on your blog, Dawn, you are so accomplished! I am in awe of all that you do and as aMum understand the distractions and pressures. Thank you, Karen (Kateri)

  • At 12:23 AM , Anonymous Essays Writing said...

    Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

  • At 5:34 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Joleene: Thanks for commenting. It's interesting that you say that. A shower often does wonders for my creativity, too. I think it's the water. LOL

    Karen: Thank you so much. I know it is a lot but it beats sitting on the couch and watching TV. :) Life is too short for the boring stuff!

    Essays: Thank you. :) I do believe in the sharing of helpful information.


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