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.