Friday, September 4, 2009
I’m currently revising a fourth draft of my second novel, “Allegations.”I’m going into my fourth year working on the book, which for me isn’t bad—my first novel, Like Normal People, took seven years to really finish. As a writer and teacher, I’m a big cheerleader for revision.
Revision isn’t, in my mind, the process of just changing a few words here or there or inserting one line that “changes” the whole story; it’s about really thinking about how to push a manuscript and make it better, to tear out and start again, and rethink. It can be arduous and aggravating and illuminating and playful and ultimately rewarding; I tell my students that revision can help you write things you never thought you could write because it is, ultimately, about patience.
I know the word “revision” can strike fear into writers. Why isn’t it good enough the first time? Why can’t I just sent it out the minute I get it onto the page? I’ve felt that, too, often; but I think that’s a reaction to our frenetic, get-things-done-instantly culture. Why can’t we congratulate each other on the fact we can stick to it for three, four, five drafts? I know that sometimes when writers speak about work, the discussion turns to when something will be finished, and the whole dreaded marketing process, etc. I do this, too. But instead, why can’t we affirm the bravery we have at working at it further? Could we ask each other--what are you discovering in this part of the process? Or—what are you learning about your characters now?
When I was a child, my mother, a dancer/choreographer, would tell my sisters and I—think about “process, not product.” I often had problems listening to this—I wanted product, product! I wanted publication, now! Now I think that working on a piece of art requires that you consider both process and product. You have a vision in your head, of your work, your wonderful creation, what you want to add to the world. And along the way, you find a way to enjoy the process, to allow its unpredictability, to follow that messy, divine road that leads you, finally, to art.