Friday, February 6, 2009


I can't write five words but that I change seven. - Dorothy Parker

The problem with revision is that it never seems hopeful to me; it just makes me feel like I failed the first time around. And I can't really complain successfully (meaning I get sympathy) to anyone unless that person writes. Then I can get lots of sympathy.

Actually, I almost never talk about writing, particularly my writing, to anyone I see on a day-to-day basis because where we live (a small seaport village that mostly supported McCain/Palin and doesn't miss a televised football game) no one:

a) believes that writers live anywhere near here


b) believes that I am one no matter what I say -

since the "real" ones don't live so close to the Chumbucket Bait Shop.

So I can only complain here. I tried complaining to my boys and they put their Ipods in and motioned that they couldn't hear me. My husband shrugged and said, "Just get it done." When I tried to complain to my daughter, she said, "Is it the middle grade story with the girl in it?" When I told her it wasn't, she walked out of the room. (Maybe flounced is a better word there).

What's so awful about revision? Well, look at the word a minute. It's a re vision which means you have to go back to a story you have mentally finished envisioning and face all the holes and gaps and weirdness that you ignored or didn't notice the first time around. I don't want to face them; I just want them to go away or fix themselves.

I have a friend who writes all the time, but she is still unpublished. She has such a better attitude than I do that she deserves to be published way more than I do. She's never surly about anything. In fact, she always tells me how she feels this wild sense of hope when she sits down to revise (see opening sentence) and I say encouraging things to her like, "What is wrong with you?" She sees revision as an opportunity to make her writing really shine, to learn from her mistakes, to pull everything together.

I know she's right, only I know it on an intellectual level, not on an emotional one. I feel extraordinarily put upon when I have to revise. I love to WRITE novels, not tinker. And what is this obsession editors have with logic and chronology issues anyway?

I get even crabbier when people (the ones I live with who are starting to get hungry and wonder when I am going to start dinner) say, "How's the editing going?" Editing is easy; revision should never be confused with editing. Editing is fixing grammar, spelling, tweaking a few sentences; revision is going into the structure and reorganizing the walls. It's work and writing is fun.

I can't imagine going through the revision process with other people. My friend (see above paragraph) belongs to a writers' group and she revises publicly - meaning, they sit around a Starbucks and tell her where her work needs to change. And she likes this, she drives there on cold nights to listen to their thoughts on revision.

That amazes me. I find it much better to hunker down, feel really sorry for myself, put a stack of chocolate next to my desk, and talk about how awful revision is because as long as I'm doing that, I can keep avoiding it.


adrienne said...

I'm starting to think that behind every creative endeavor there is a stash of chocolate.
(Best of luck on your revisions)

Marcia said...

Oh dear. You may not like me here. I love revision. I find it easier to work with something that already exists. It's the first draft that drives me crazy.

But I really enjoyed your post, if that helps! :)

Anne Spollen said...

Yes, Adrienne, I am sure chocolate stimulates the part of the brain that makes us happy so we write better. It's one of those ideas that can't be proved scientifically, but I just know it's true on the spiritual plane.

And Marcia, I love that you find the first draft harder. I am constantly telling my students that there is no ONE way to write, and each of us has to find our way, all that stuff. So I am actually going to use this example on Wednesday when I teach my writing class (it's perfect)

Colorado Writer said...

You already know my secret revision weapons. Dark Chocolate Chex Mix and red vines. I ifnd all of it really hard. It's like I need a direct pipeline from my what my brain to the computer.

Mary Witzl said...

I'm revising too, and I feel just like you do about it: it's like having teeth pulled, in the cold, without anesthesia. It's hellish and soul destroying, and my problem with it is that the story could go so many ways and I'm not sure which way is best. I know the beginning and end; I know much of the middle. But all the bits and pieces that connect those middle bits with the beginning and ending -- they are the ones that plague me.

My husband is a good beta reader, so I'm lucky. But he gets bees in his bonnet very quickly and just discussing WIPs with him can be a minefield. And I'll never tell another neighbor or colleague that I write. "Oh, you're so lucky! Hurry up and publish so you don't have to do real work anymore!"


Katie said...

so funny! I am actually doing my first "requested revisions." Or at least I kinda am. My dream agent "passed" ("at this time") on my novel but gave me several ways she thought I should "tighten it."

(I am not sure if I am tightening it for her to see again though? Haven't had that conversation yet.)

Anyway, I LOVED revising when my critique group suggested it, but now that it feels necessary I am DYIING!

It's so hard. My eyes feel like they are going to burst. And I am certain that I am creating new wrinkles around my eyes and forehead and nose...

BUT, hopefully she is right and the "revised" story will be sellable :-)

Good Luck!

Nora MacFarlane said...

Writing the first draft is like having a baby, hellish, painful, and wonderful - all at the same time. I find revising much easier.

Good luck to you on your revisions!

Carrie Harris said...

I enjoy revising to a certain extent, because I like playing with language. But there's this letdown when you realize that the chapter that felt so fabulous when you first wrote it, the one that flowed so well that it was certainly inspired by some divine creature blowing in your ear, is really a bunch of dog doo. So I completely know what you mean. :)