Friday, December 30, 2011

The Indispensability of Editing When Constructing Voice

Pulitzer Prize winning author and creative writing professor Richard Rhodes has a great piece in the Wall Street Journal exploring the distinction between self-talk and the various constructs of voice.  He argues that quality editing is essential to the process of converting disorganized self-talk into a coherent, clear written voice.  Some highlights:

When I'm teaching students, then, I focus first on voice. It's never occurred to most of them that they use a constructed voice when they write. Because they're transcribing their self-talk more or less, they think that they're writing in their "own" voice.

I point out that they use different voices for different forms of writing, from school papers to emails home to cellphone texts. I tell them that the voice of a school paper is an invented voice, as much as the voice of the narrator in a novel.

The work of writing, I tell them, isn't simply copying down their self-talk. If they think so, I say, try transcribing a conversation and see how much is redundant or extraneous.

No, the work of writing is deliberately choosing a voice, a fictional construct, in which to argue or narrate, and then, through draft after successive draft, composing and editing a translation of their self-talk into prose that others can read and understand.

Teaching proper voice to first year law students is difficult because the voice they need to construct must be tailored to reach an audience that they are still struggling to understand -- judges and other attorneys.  This reality makes teaching effective writing process imperative.  At a certain point, it clicks for students, sometimes in the first year of law school and sometimes during the first several years of practice. When it does, students who remember sound writing process can use it to reach the intended audience.  Sound revision and editing skills are undoubtedly essential in doing so.


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