After reading excerpts from Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose, I realize that I succumb to The Official Style: I use grandiose language when a smaller, simpler word would suffice because I like the cadence. The Official Style makes me seem smart even when I am unsure of my argument and/or evidence. Lanham’s image of “The Official Style seizing its prey like a boa constrictor and gradually squeezing the life out of it” resonated with me. It also concerned me.
A meeting with my Critical Writing professor this semester caused me to reflect on my writing habits. I resolved to change them. I had an art history essay due and while writing, I decided to avoid the Official Style. It was difficult and I was not pleased with the outcome, but I handed it in anyway. Perhaps it was a bit reckless to experiment on an assignment, but I am excited to see how it is received and how it compares with the other essays I have written.
In the past I have viewed the revision process as linear. I revise as I write, unable to move on to the next paragraph until I am satisfied with the current one. After I finish my conclusion paragraph, I take a break from the essay and return to it refreshed. I rewrite my thesis, delete unnecessary sentences, change words, and rearrange paragraphs. This process is done from the beginning of the first paragraph until I reach the last sentence of the last one. Then I print it.
With my experimental art history essay, I wrote a draft of my essay, not stopping to analyze my word choice or syntax. I just filled the pages with my ideas, even those I wasn’t sure about, until I had a draft. As Donald Murray states in his article “The Maker’s Eye: Revising Your Own Manuscript,” “when a draft is completed, the job of writing can begin.” I hated my draft and considered starting completely anew. Instead I decided to revise it in cycles, which Nancy Sommers views as the best method for the revision process in her article “Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers.” By focusing on different aspects of writing with each cycle, the language, argument, and flow of my essay received my undivided attention.
The problem with a cyclic revision process is that it is never ending. I revised my essay for two weeks and with each revision I had no idea whether my essay was improving or getting worse. The essay I handed in looked much different from the first draft (and the second, third and fourth ones too). Perhaps I was too critical of myself and my writing, but perhaps I was not critical enough. The final draft was not final, it was abandoned.