Kill those trees!

By Perpetual Murray

*** This post first appeared in The Tampa Review Online

I know, I know. But before you pick up your green placards, please hear me out. To begin with, these are not my words (not that I need to pass the blame), but these words come from Amina Gautier, whose work, especially her short story collection, At Risk, I have come to admire.

Yes, Gautier is very environmentally conscious. At the same time, she recognizes that the same way a painter requires a canvas and a sculptor wood, clay, stone or metal, a writer needs paper. Granted, this is the electronic age and almost every industry is going paper-less, but for a writer, the use of paper is still an indispensable part of the craft.

If you have ever proofread, you will agree that it is so much easier to catch errors on a printed page than it is on the computer screen. Gautier’s recommendation to use paper, however, has to do with craft, perfecting one’s work. In the revision phase, she recommends printing multiple copies of a story and revising each stack for a single element of craft. This means components that work together to bring a story to life, such as character, mood, setting, voice, conflict, dialogue, imagery, scene vs. summary, and so forth, must be compartmentalized. In this way, you give undivided attention to each aspect of craft, revising with specific questions in mind.

Practiced writers know that you cannot underestimate the value revision. Reading Isaac Babel’s story, “You Must Know Everything,” in one of The New Yorker’s fiction podcasts, George Saunders said that what he admires most about Babel is that he can tell that Babel was extremely disciplined, a heavy editor and was hard on himself. This is exactly what Gautier says writers must be if they are to produce memorable stories. She says the same way that models and actors spend money on photo shoots, writers must use up reams and reams of paper in the revision process until that masterpiece comes to life.

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