Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Reason to Love Revision

I have this love-hate relationship with revising. The hate comes in when I first get feedback and I just sit around and ruminate for a day or so. (Side note: isn't ruminate a great word? It reminds me of cows.) Anyway, when I'm sitting there staring at the work I've done and thinking about how I should just tear a certain section out and write it over again, that's when I'm not such a fan of the revising process.

I feel like people who don't write or who aren't exposed to the insanity of writers don't quite get this, so let me put it in terms everyone can understand: how would you feel if I told you to tear off your arm and get to work growing a new one? Not so good, yes? Well, it's not quite that dramatic, but basically you sit there and think: "How the hell am I supposed to grow a new arm?! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE FIRST ONE?!"

After I have formulated a plan as to how I will sprout a new limb, the love starts. I don't just like revising because it makes the work better, although that is the primary reason. Actually, that's not even what's on my mind most of the time, because I have a hard time looking that far ahead. I also get confused when people say the best thing about writing is having written, because for me the best part is the...writing part.

Mostly I like it because it's like a game. Someone tells you a problem with your work, and you have to sit there and figure out a way to fix it. It's kind of like someone giving you a starting point and a destination and you have to figure out the shortest, most efficient way of getting from point A to point B. Maximum impact with minimum damage. All the different places your story could go and your characters could go have to unfold in front of you and then you have to force yourself to think of other options. If life were like this, we could go anywhere.

But of course, we don't. We pick what we pick because we are what we are. That's the tricky part. You have to ask yourself: "If I want Jimmy to end up sacrificing a goat at the end of this story...given that Jimmy is a shy, mild-mannered fellow, how on earth do I get him to the goat stage while still being true to his character?"

No note, no goat.

(Did I mention George Saunders is coming here in the winter? Yesss.)

I like having nine different versions of the story. I enjoy reading the old ones over again once I've made drastic changes, and knowing that there's more to it than anyone will ever know. I pity the person who tries to find something in my files, though, because it's full of word documents with code names like: ER4. HB2. L3. WCTE. Like I'm planning a flipping sneak attack on the US government.

I'm not.



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