This lesson, titled “Precision,” is about editing. Even though we have no pressure of grades in this on-line class, the teacher is quite critical––that’s a good thing––and I have tried to do my best. I like to get my money’s worth. Our class of 13 is down to two or three, so I figure the teacher will notice my work even more.
The assignment: Revise a brief piece you’ve written for this class, or a portion of a piece. Sharpen the humor as best you can. Post the original version along with your new revision.
I ponder the possibilities. I have a whole week, until end of day on Monday, to submit homework. I settle on re-writing my first Booth piece, “Worries 2.0”. Ann’s class had laughed, back when it was just called “Worries,” and this on-line group had made nice comments when I posted in the Booth. But Kachuba, the Gotham teacher, had said that I should include more calamities. He called it “snowballing”. We hadn’t had the lesson yet on structure when he said that, but the next week I learned that snowballing meant to make the adversities bigger and bigger, like a snowball growing in size until it can’t hold together any longer. The arc of a story as applied to writing humor. Yes, I decide, Worries 2.0 is short enough to be lengthened a bit, a good opportunity to practice snowballing.
The fact that this assignment, like all of them, has a word limit of 750, compared to 3750 for a Booth piece, doesn’t enter my mind.
For days, I fret and fuss over the new version, Worries 2.1. I focused on flies in the original essay, so now I add in some rats to make a bigger snowball. It’s still a truthful memoir, although I do compress a couple of weeks into a couple of days. I check and re-check––for repeated words, punctuation, verb consistency, dialogue paragraph changes––trying to avoid critical comments unrelated to structure. Late on Monday afternoon, I consider it done. I have just enough time before heading off to the gym, to get my homework in. I save it as an rtf, the required format for submissions, and post it on the homework page.
Before hitting the submit button, though, I click inside the submission box and try to write the teacher a note, telling him that I understand snowballing but am limited somewhat because this is a memoir and tied to the truth. But the computer won’t let me write directly in the submission box. So I delete the rtf. I add the comment to the teacher into my computer document, save a version and re-submit Worries 2.1.rtf. Then I try to post “Worries 2.0.rtf” above it because the assignment requested that we post the first version along with the new one, and I’ve prided myself on following instructions for this class. But the site’s program will not allow me to add a second document. So I delete the submission. I go back to my document file and copy Worries 2.0 into Worries 2.1, including the note to the teacher, save as an rtf, then re-post and hit submit.
I see a warning box with angry red letters, saying my submission is way over the word limit and must be trimmed. Which, I find out, cannot be done on-line. I go back to my computer file and delete Worries 2.0 from the rtf––he would have to read it in my first Booth posting––and re-submit 2.1 with the comment about snowballing. I see the same note in red: way over the word limit. Now I’m sweating.
I log out of the program, to let my computer, and me, rest for a minute. I glance at the clock: 5:40. I’m scheduled for my gym workout at 6:00, but I have to get this homework submitted before I go. By the time I get home from the club, it will be too late, New York time. I debate for one second about submitting another piece, but I haven’t worked on anything. I have no time.
I take a deep breath. I go back to the Worries 2.1 rtf in the document file on my computer, and delete a couple of sentences. Too big. Then a paragraph. Still too big. After three attempts, I delete all except the last half of the story, which is the part where I added rats. Then I add a second note to the teacher as a P.S., explaining my many attempts to post my homework, similar to what I have written here. I add, “Now I am a bit worried that the ATM will eat my debit card.”
I save this version of the rtf, post it on the homework page, and hit submit.
Success! No message in red.
When I get home from the club, I see that the teacher read my homework within minutes of my posting it. He highlighted my P.S. and wrote, “There you go; now you’re snowballing!”