24 April 2014

I cut. I paste.

The best revision advice I've heard either came when I was sixteen or not yet six, depending on which story you believe.


It came as formal writing advice in high school English class. The first major revision I ever did was in my junior research paper with Mrs. Teresa White, who was one of my favorites and to whom I therefore may be inappropriately giving credit properly belonging to some other teacher who wasn't as gregarious toward me. But that's unlikely, given the whole Junior Research Paper Situation.

I am nearly positive it was Teresa White who first advised me that a good practice for revising a writing project is printing the whole blessed thing out, taking a pair of scissors to it, and then rearranging it on the floor and pasting it back together.

Crude, perhaps; yet, effective.

It's a trick I've used many times over the years. I forget about it for a spell, then it suddenly comes back to me, or someone suggests it again, and I wonder why I don't do it all the time.


The advice came informally, perhaps, when I was not yet six, and it is documented. 

My family has a whole slew of old home videos, mostly incredibly mundane. Mom jokes that Dad thought turning the video camera on was equivalent to watching us; if true, the flaw in Dad's otherwise-rather-brilliant plan was that we clearly didn't comprehend the video camera as a watcherit was more tattling undercover spy than guardian whose presence discouraged misbehavior.

One episode that I find too embarrassing to rewatch in order to have a detailed retelling here involves me and my sister playing at, I think, our little craft table with crayons and paper and assorted crafty things. At some point, I hit her, who knows why really, and she must cry that I've hit her because I claim "I did not!" and then am off-camera for some time, leaving my sister to enact her revenge upon my crafts with the simple declaration, "I cut. I paste."

The author and her sister in their Sunday best,
apparently not fighting.
I could be entirely misremembering the events of that episode. At this point, it's not a memory that actually exists in my mind; merely a memory of a video, lacking any context whatsoever, particularly the context of what was going on in either of our heads at the time. Perhaps, for example, I am seeing diabolical vengeful motives on my sister's part that were simply never there. Perhaps I think that her cutting and pasting are revenge because that's what I would have done had she hit me and then run off to claim that I was lying to make her look bad. 

But she was a cheerful child, not given to acts of vengeance, at least not to my recollection. And perhaps it is a truer interpretation of her actions to see that she was improving my project by cutting and pasting. Perhaps she was trying to make it more beautiful, rather than ruin it.


Recently, a rather large document revision was giving me some trouble. It is in the format of a choose-your-own adventure story, but with health care information. You start at the beginning and, if [A], you go to page 3; if [B], you go to page 4; the option tree branches out from there. Sometimes the paths cross, and those were the bits that were hurting my head. I was having trouble understanding the logic paths when I thought to myself I wish I had this all laid out in front of me and I could cut it apart and arrange it in order.

I felt a fool for not having thought of it earlier. Of course I could do that. Sitting at my desk, cutting out the different answer options from the paper and pinning them to my bulletin board with tacks, I murmured, "I cut. I paste."

And it worked. I ended up with something that is, I think, better than when I started. Simpler. Clearer. Or so I hope.

A crude method, perhaps, but a method nonetheless. One that children can explain and intuitively grasp, or an elegantly simple revenge: I'm still not sure which. But it works as a revision method, and it makes me smile. And there's a certain pleasure in physically cutting up a project that's being difficult and rebuilding it from the pieces. Destroy and recreate. Cut and paste.