reflections by John Dorr
One of the things that seemed to be rather unique in Roberta’s writing process was that she took feedback from editors graciously, but then went into their changes and re-write to try and discover what they were “fixing” or adjusting. Once having discovered where her story lagged or character dipped into gray, she would take in hand to re-write the section or element with her own style and often her own solution. For her this would maintain the integrity of the work, keep the characters, plot and context cleanly in her head and thus keep the story flowing as a unique whole. Sometimes this “re-writing in her own words, style and flow” process would frustrate her editors because while she appreciated their gifted observations she noted a shift in storytelling, in vocabulary and flavors of words.
Once an editor working on David and Bathsheba noted a point where the story movement seemed to hesitate and drag a bit. His solution was to add some graphic battle scenes with David and his mighty men slashing through flesh and clanging swords and throwing spears as a means of creating movement and drama. Roberta saw what and where the challenge was in her storyline and noted the effort of the editor, but took it in hand to make the adjustments herself – because in the end her story of David and Bathsheba was an etching out of Bathsheba’s unique story, life and experience with this great faith-filled yet flawed King David.
One interesting note concerning Roberta’s writing process has to do with her tangle with technology. For years she plied her craft on a standard, portable Smith Corona making duplicates with the thin sheets of carbon paper that always seemed to leave a stain somewhere on your clothing or at the corner of your mouth. In the mid 70’s her husband, David, decided that with the amount of writing she was doing and especially the editing, re-writes and the like, that a word processor would be in order. He purchased an IBM computer with two large floppy drives – one for the word processing program and one for the data. Her son, James, the computer expert in the family, patiently showed her how to start it up, load up her chapters, and save it all at the end. Once she learned the system she was off and flying, pounding away on the delicate keyboard as if she was still forcing the Smith Corona keys to jump from their basket onto the page.
It was not all smooth sailing with the IBM, however. Reading and reviewing her work on the little amber colored screen did not let her feel the words, the sentences or the story. So she would print everything off on a dot matrix printer with fan fold paper and then read through her work with pencil in hand to make notes and minor corrections. But even more than this, she was not so comfortable with managing the spell checker and so she would shuttle off the printed pages of polished effort to her husband, David, to check the spelling and grammar. So while the IBM computer was wonderful for editing and cleaning things up, it was in reality a glorified Smith Corona.