I suspect that my friends in the local writers group cringe every time they hear me say the word ‘revision’ or ‘editing.’ I’m constantly sharing my perspective as well as articles, tips, and quotes on the process of revision. I’ve become a big fan since I decided that perpetual procrastination (which allows for minimal reflection) was not producing a quality of work that I desired. It’s taken about 30 years to reach this point.
In high school, revising was not promoted. You did the work; maybe did a little editing for grammar and spelling and then submitted the project. It was graded and the process was over. In college, the process was expanded somewhat, but it really wasn’t until I was working on my senior project to complete my BA about three years ago that I really understood the significance of revision.
Everyone loves the creative process especially when it’s a day that words are just flowing from your fingers to the page. It’s new and exciting. It’s the first time those words – the feelings, the colors, the smells – are in a tangible form that can be shared with others. It’s a cathartic experience full of ups and downs, new adventures, and discoveries about our characters and ourselves as writers.
Revision, by comparison, sounds like drudgery. Correcting verb tenses, tightening up sentences, deleting unnecessary modifiers, and perhaps deleting a finely crafted section of our masterpiece. It’s this possibility that makes the revision process seem so heinous – suggesting perhaps in a perfect moment of spontaneous creativity that a sentence or a paragraph or a scene, even, may have been created only to be thrown into a void. Could something that is written in this perfect state not be necessary to further the story?
For that senior project, I spent a year writing and revising the first 100 pages of a novel. I learned that the revision process has an exciting energy of its own. It’s quite different from the energy of creation, but equally is creative and just as important. It’s not just about grammar and spelling or verb tenses. Revision is a stage of listening, gauging, questioning, and evaluating. Instead of being in my character’s shoes, I’m now walking by her side making sure she’s following the path that is truest to her nature. I’m listening to her voice to be sure that it’s genuine to her personality and observing her actions for authenticity. It’s like falling in love again with your story from a mentor’s point of view instead of a participant’s.
And I learned through 365 days with these words, that even if there is such a thing as the perfect sentence – there will always be others and that holding onto an awesome sentence when it doesn’t further the story is pretty silly. I highlight and delete at will now. I don’t even copy and paste the words to a separate file anymore. There will be other words; other sentences.
Revision is about breaking free from the fear that you’ve already put down all the good words you have about a story. Revision allows us to stop and reflect, observe, and commune with our characters and themes. It’s the time to make that fine detail even finer; the voice even stronger; the ideas richer. A time to develop as a writer.