On Revision & the Writing Process


On Revision & the Writing Process




A few weeks ago, I had the fortune of seeing “NEW // IN PROCESS,” a collaborative show that featured music by the Baker-Bargainer Duo (Elizabeth Baker and Erich Bargainer) and new dance pieces by Helen Hansen French and Kellie Harmon. From wii controller-induced music and dance collaborations to a symphony of vibrators inside of a piano, the evening was thoroughly entertaining, if not thrilling. But what made the evening truly special, was the fact that the program was presented as a time for new works.

New works/works in progress, we’ve all been there. There is a joy to work that is being worked on, that is being untangled as it’s taking form. Although, granted, this joy may seem more like excruciating pain as you’re working through the piece. Yet, this is a safe place of working, processing and of moving towards. In writing, this is the revision process. This is the messiness (and the fun) of creating art.

As a writer and educator, I constantly repeat the phrase: writing is a process.

Draft one is usually garbage. And, I’m okay with that because often out of that heap of trash, I salvage a line or two, or an image and I work from there. Then, I pare down as much as possible and listen to the prosody of the lines. What does this poem want? I often ask (sometimes aloud at coffee shops). Once something is written it belongs less and less to me and it begins to take on a life of its own. From draft one on, it’s my job to help the poem say and do what it needs to say and do.

Revision is the invisible and enormous bottom of the iceberg. Sometimes, I hit my stride at about draft four. Yet, the poem I’m working on is still a hatchling. It’s still in process and it will have a long, long way to go before it’s done. I accept this and I end up living with the poem through its growing pains for a while.

When I think of new pieces of writing, I think of the scene of Bambi where Bambi discovers snow and has to learn to walk on ice.

This is often what the writing process looks like:

As a writer, it’s my job to help that knob-legged baby poem get across that ice. How? Through trial and error, through working, re-working and relishing in the unfinished stage of being “in process.”

I am thankful for the practice that goes into making art and I’m also grateful to live in a community that supports works in progress. As a writer, I’ve been fortunate to find trusted readers who are candid with their feedback. I also learn a lot about trusting the messy process of writing in Keep St.Pete Lit’s LIT SPACE classes.

Perhaps most importantly, “NEW // IN PROCESS” reminded me of the play and risk that goes into making art. The beauty of revision, in my experience anyway, is that more than anything it enables me to experiment and take risks. For, isn’t risk-taking one of the most important parts of the creative process?


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