Friday, August 8, 2014

Embracing the Revision Process

I first tackled NaNoWriMo in November 2008. I hadn't even heard there was such a thing until maybe a week before, but my girlfriend at the time was very into the idea, so I decided to join her in her efforts.

It was an unmitigated disaster. I had no characters, no plot, and no storyline. I came to the end of my hastily constructed outline at about word 30,000. I had to make up a whole "tagged on" story arc to get to 50,000 words by November 30.

On December 1, I saved the final file. Then I promptly threw it away. Even the thought of tackling revision on such a blemish on the face of the literary world sent me into dry heaves. I feared to even attempt NaNoWriMo again until 2013.

As a young writer in my teens and early twenties, I hated the very idea of revision. Why change what inspiration drove me to write? Sure, I would go back and proofread, but revision? I didn't really understand what that meant, and I certainly didn't know how to do it.

Then, I got older, and though my revision and rewriting skills improved, my patience did not.  My July 2013 Camp NaNoWriMo project is still waiting for its promised round of revisions/rewrites.  It's been put on the back burner.  I haven't quite decided to scrap it yet, but I'm not sure when I will feel the desire to work on it again.

I wonder how many writers have that same attitude toward the revision process.  I wonder if fear of changing, of losing the beauty of what we've painstakingly written, freezes many of us from ever aspiring to improve as writers.

It's amazing how time and experience can force one's perspective to change.  Now editing and revising are my favorite parts of the process, for one simple reason.

I loathe first drafts.

There is nothing more intimidating to me than a blank screen or empty page. It doesn't matter if an entire scene, story, or novel has been swimming around my literary womb, waiting for the orgasmic ecstasy of birth. When I see that empty page, devoid of all life, my creative well dries up like Oklahoma's water supply in mid-July. I wonder whether I will ever write another story, another sentence, another word that might color that lifeless desert.

At heart, writing is about creating.  It's about bringing forth something from nothing.  Yes, one could argue that just an idea already gives you a starting point, but setting an idea into words, somehow conveying that idea to people who don't have the benefit of living within your mental landscape--that's beyond challenging.  Sometimes it feels impossible.

But I push through.  A "sloppy copy" somehow appears on the blank screen--I'm still not entirely certain how--and I feel an immediate sense of deep relief.  The hard part--emotionally anyway--is over.  Now comes the fun.

There's nothing quite so amazing to me as watching a complete load of manure be crafted, compacted, and sculpted into something that can truly sparkle.  Therein lies the true craft--and I would argue the true joy--of writing.

It's not that different from bringing up a child, really.  Through some great gift of the cosmos, you are given the ability to create life, to bring forth something from nothing.  But when she arrives she's completely helpless, defenseless, and frankly has no idea what she's doing.  So you guide her.  You read every book you can, ask for every bit of advice you can get, and implement every (good) idea you stumble upon.  It takes years, but she grows into something vaguely person-shaped.  Then one day, you look at her, and your work is done.  She's ready to fly, to spread her wings and venture into the terrifying, dangerous, and wonderful world.  Once she's gone, you no longer have any control where she goes.  You live on the edge of fear, terrified that something awful will happen to her.  But she's grown up.  She's become what you've always hoped (or perhaps what you had no idea) she would become.  That's when you let her go.

Writing is similar.  It would be irresponsible to send a toddler out into the world on her own.  She isn't done growing yet!  She takes years of practice and perseverance, and our writing can grow no other way.

Remember, though there are days when that piece is sitting on your desk throwing the equivalent of a four-year-old temper tantrum, refusing to bow to your will, there will also be days that you look at it, and you will think, "Wow!  I created that!"  The dirty diapers are just as much of the process as the hugs and kisses and whispers of "I love you, mommy."

Cherish it all.

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