What are you giving the reader on every page?
Let’s revisit that idea of giving, as we considered in the writing experiment last week, where we reappropriated appropriation as an act of giving.
For this week’s writing experiment: As an exercise in revising and drafting, print off a copy of your manuscript in a format different from the one in which it was originally composed. I suggest, for example, a bookish typeface such as Baskerville or Garamond, single-spaced and justified, and when it comes to printing put two pages on a sheet of A4/letter paper – see the sample below. Check your page settings for how to do this: you might have to fiddle around, and, e.g., play with the margins. And, unlike me in this case, remember to add page numbers, else things could get confusing. I think this was 11pt Baskerville.
Defamiliarised, your writing will look and feel different when you read through it this time.
Take a block (or blocks) of time to sit down with a pen or pencil, and read through your work.
At the top of every page, make a note of the gift you are giving the reader on that page.
Your offering can vary: sometimes it’s dramatic stakes (tension in a scene), sometimes it’s narrative stakes (plot point and tension within the bigger story), sometimes it’s a fresh insight into character, or a quiet interlude that gives us an emotion, or a lovely bit of sensory detail of setting, or some poetry in the prose, or a powerful symbol working its magic, or some clarifying perception of the world.
If you can’t identify anything in particular, 1. stop being negative about yourself, and 2. simply find the strongest word on the page, and rewrite that at the top as your gift: maybe, later, you can give some thought to the deeper meaning of that word.
Also, don’t be tempted to note more than one gift on each page. Each page might have a number of offerings, but it can help to identify what’s most important. This might give you some thought about whether some items might recede, or even be pruned. Writing can get too clotted, just as it can feel too thin.
Don’t rush. Read in a leisurely manner. It can even help to read aloud. Otherwise, avoid making further marks on the pages; this is an exercise in focus and restraint about your skills in the arts of giving.
Once you are done, collate your gifts into a list:
… and so on for every page of the book.
Put this to one side for a couple of days, then come back and see what work you need to do. You might annotate your list further, e.g., noting where you have too many gifts, or too few. There might be some evening out to do in the pacing.
You can extend this further, e.g., thinking about the gift in every paragraph. But I think every page works fine.
And at the end, ask yourself: what is the gift this book is giving as a whole?
Happy Christmas! (That lovely rose above was a gift that came this morning. Flora makes such lovely gifts. Maybe think about your own writing as a flower too?)