Saturday, November 30, 2013

Week 15. Revision--sorting out the gold from the dross

Truth is, I'm not much of a reviser myself.

That's heresy for English teachers. We really do not have that much to do or teach, so we fill up time by telling students to be perfect, to sit in peer groups and edit and revamp material endlessly--forgetting that the perfect is the enemy of the good. But you won't get many English teachers who don't preach the Gospel of Revision. You have me, not usually much of a preacherman. But this week, I do have a little sermon for you.


I'm no typist, so in the days before computers, when I wrote longhand, I'd have one very messy draft, which I would eventually turn into a fair copy, and a certain amount of revision happened between those two drafts. But now that we have computers and revision is a breeze, I'm not interested. I only did it when I had to.

Don't misunderstand. As I write, I am always rewriting. I am changing wording, improving sentences, dropping material, sliding things around into different spots, reading the piece aloud, making changes. But that's just editing. I'm not taking a step back from the whole piece, re-imagining it, seriously preparing to take it apart and put it together in a way that looks substantially different.

And again, don't misunderstand. I don't not-revise because my material is always perfectly outlined and laid out in advance. It isn't. I hate outlines for nonfiction and, for fiction, I wing it, usually having no idea what will happen or how the story will end.

You'd think I'd want to revise! Maybe I'm too stuck on myself. But when I am satisfied (and that does not always happen right away), but when I am, I don't have some tortured ideology that insists on a major rewrite every time.

Many writers do have that tortured ideology. There are all sorts of tales of writers who spend years revising, or who lock manuscripts up for a year before sitting down and beginning the revisions, or who send the hopeless manuscript off to an editor for a complete overhaul. That's not me.

I don't know if it's you either. But let's pretend it isn't. Let's pretend you're an eager reviser. Pretend you're as ambitious and determined and flexible and sharp and patient and skilled as your classmate, stargazer_lily, who first wrote this:

and then totally rewrote it this way:

I was and am so frippin impressed. She took what was already good and made it much better. Why the hell can't I do that?

Or more to the point: why can't you? And why don't you? For week 15! Go back over the semester, choose a piece, and give it the spa treatment, a massive makeover, a total rebuild, a careful wash and wax til it shines like the sun in June.


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