Revision is something I struggle with. For years, I didn’t know what it meant. I thought it was some sort of advanced authorial copyediting, where I leaned back and admired the matchless sheen of my prose and gave the 100-watt corners an extra buff with the word-chamois to bring them up to 110.
That wasn’t revision, that was narcissism. It was also kind of boring. Real revision – taking apart your story, your characters, your presumptions, your plots, your locations, your motivations piece-by-piece, can be exhilarating.
It’s also – for me, at least – a miserable, tooth-gnashing, soul-destroying self-flagellation. In life, I’m a hard-core pessimist. But in first drafts, I’m sunshine pollyanna. I absolutely believe that I can write anything I like, that the good stuff comes from the uninterrupted, unmediated unconcious, and that I, as writing manuals are so fond of instructing, “can always fix it later.”
Good advice. Except they never mention just how hard that fix is. Maybe there’s some zen koan secret to it, where if I would just give up and stop struggling, stop fixating on my original inspiration, stop believing that the finished product should have a passing relation to why I wanted to write the story in the first place, I would be writing better stories.
I have been helped, psychologically, by watching some writer friends go through the same thing. Seeing their work taken down 19 or 20 pegs in critique, and seeing them come back with a whole new manuscript, re-thought, re-considered, and re-written. The act of watching it happen in someone else somehow makes it more possible. Because I know in the end my problem with revision is not about craft: it’s about fear.
As Karen Outen says in this article from Glimmer Train, “The general fear of revision is, of course, simply our fear that what we want from our stories cannot be achieved.” She’s 100% right. And while I think I’m a long way from the “joyful” she’s talking about, every little bit helps.
Any of you other writers want to comment on your feelings about revision? I would really love to hear how it works for someone else. I even understand that there are some people/loonies out there who claim to love revision, and say it’s their favorite part of the process.