Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop, Part 6: Keep the Clay Wet

When I was a kid I went to an elementary school where we did a lot of work in clay. We shaped ashtrays, monsters, snakes, ballet dancers, and football players. At the end of art class, if we were still working on a piece, we covered it in wet paper towels and enclosed it in a plastic bag. When we returned to the studio in a couple of days, we would unwrap the clay and the piece had remained moist and malleable, still colored dark gray. We could change anything we’d already done.

If we didn’t wrap the piece in damp towels, the clay would dry out, turning a paler gray, and we could only make limited changes, mostly by adding on, and even then, the new clay often would not bond with the old.

What does this have to do with writing? Many writers feel that their early drafts cannot be touched. They get too attached to a certain version of a piece of writing, and they resist making changes. They don’t keep the clay wet. As a result, they ignore feedback, and even refuse to pay attention to their own instincts and thoughts about what is or isn’t working in their writing.

It’s vital if you want to finish a work with the same quality of writing that you “keep the clay wet.” Don’t get too attached to any one phrase or draft or scene or character. What has to go, has to go. What you replace it with will be even better.

Other recent posts about writing topics: 
How to Get Published
Getting the Most from Your Writing Workshop
How Not to Become a Literary Dropout
Putting Together a Book Manuscript
Working with a Writing Mentor
How to Deliver Your Message
Does the Muse Have a Cell Phone?
Why Write Poetry? 
Poetic Forms: IntroductionThe SonnetThe SestinaThe GhazalThe Tanka

Praise and Lament
How to Be an American Writer


  1. I just discovered your series of posts on getting the most out of your writing workshop. Thank you for this helpful advice. I've often noticed that it can be tough to go back and rework or revise a poem that has "hardened." What advice do you have on how to keep drafts feeling "wet"?

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  3. Kim: Thanks for your comment. It's not easy to go back and change a work of writing that you've devoted your time and emotion to. Step back, try to get distance, think of the writing as coming from someone else. That's why I like the idea of the muse—we don't entirely own the creations we produce. When we edit our own work, we have to root for the writing, not for our egos. Easier said than done!