I always knew that revision was a necessary part of writing, as inescapable as the need to eat and sleep every day. But I don’t think I gave revision much thought–it seemed so obvious. You read your writing, identify the sticky bits, and fix them. Fixing them might consist of changing words or punctuation, or more likely of moving passages of text around, reordering the building blocks of the story or chapter. Sometimes a scene or entire chapter has to be scrapped. I have always been willing to do that, sacrifice a large section for the greater good.
But I do think I’ve experienced an attitude shift lately. When I approach a piece of work with an eye toward revision, I do just that, I try to re-see. I am less likely now to scrutinize what’s on the page and try to find those weak links, then break out the hammer and forge and pound them into shape, keeping the rest of the chain in tact. I am more likely to read the piece as a reader would, for pleasure, for the feel of it. Just like when you miss a spot shaving, running your hand over your skin will reveal the rough patch quicker than looking for it. If I sat there looking for the rough patch, I’d likely get entranced by the freckle on my knee and miss the stubble altogether. But running that hand up my leg shows me immediately where to go.
Once that rough patch is identified, instead of examining it right away, I sit back and ponder it. What are these characters doing? Why? How? Where? Sitting with the prose for a few minutes will usually bring to mind the problem(s): I’m in Greta’s point of view, but she isn’t telling me enough; the secondary characters are shapeless blobs; there’s only one sense present in the details.
With the problem in mind, I can get to work. Only whereas before I would have pulled out a wrench and tried to get between the words–tightening here, making room there, squeezing in some new description, extracting the extraneous–now I again sit back. I might even close my eyes and breathe for a while. Instead of focusing on the problems that need fixing, I bring the scene and what I know has to happen into my mind, then I will it to life.
This week, the opening scene of a chapter needed some work. I wrote ten new pages before I even got into the text already there. It was satisfying progress. Will it survive the next round of revisions? That depends. But it is the effect of re-visioning the scene, of bringing it into existence in a richer way.
And isn’t the goal of writing always to imagine it (whatever it is) to life?
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