Hate Revision? Get Over It

Hate Revision? Get Over It

This week I’ll be teaching a workshop at the Chautauqua Institution called “Re-envisioning Revision.” It’s for writers who have a draft of a larger work and are ready for the next step. The workshop is small; revision isn’t a popular subject.

Why is revision such a tough sell? I think a big piece of it is our educational system. Revision has become synonymous with copyediting, while being nothing remotely close to it. In high school we were told to rewrite our work, but this usual meant we should correct our grammar and spelling. This is not revision.

The other reason I think revision is a tough sell is because it’s the real work of writing, and many people just don’t want to do this work. That early draft is so exciting to write, we have so much fun with it. It’s got to be perfect, right? And then we go into a workshop and the other participants, our first line of readers, tell us what they didn’t understand, what made no sense, what was missing and confusing and discordant. Some (many?) of us expected something different, mostly that the other participants would tell us how amazing the story or poem or essay was and how we should find a publisher for it. It’s a bitter pill to swallow. We feel defensive of our work, defeated by the feedback, discouraged and overwhelmed by the mountain of work ahead.

This pattern depresses me, mostly because I like revision and (quite frankly) have no patience for people who want their egos coddled. I like to tinker and fix and make things better. I like to problem-solve. Mostly, I like to step back from my work and discover what it is really telling me. Revision reveals to us the mystery of writing. It shows us how we may set out on one path and end up somewhere entirely unexpected. The mystery is in how this happens. Being open to the mystery is where revision starts.

If you hate revision, I have only one thing to say to you: Get over it, already.

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