Thursday, August 7, 2014

Revision - Every Writer's Best Frenemy

The World's Greatest Cat Is Far Too Busy For Endless Revisions

Let's face it – if you're a writer, then the revision process is your frenemy. It can turn a lousy piece of writing great, but it can also be tedious and time consuming. No wonder professional writers are so passionate about their work. They have to be in order to put up with all the revisions their job requires.

Students of mine at Post University are currently reading about the revision process and seem fascinated by the fact that revising one's work really wasn't a big part of writing until the 20th century. They're right to be fascinated by that fact, too.

Shakespeare, after all, was said to not revise at all (though I find that a bit of a stretch). Ernest Hemingway, on the other hand, claimed he rewrote the amazingly simplistic ending to “A Farewell To Arms” over thirty times before he was satisfied with it.

The point? That the writing process inevitably changes with time.

This is true on a personal as well as on a societal level. When I was young and hungry, I would spend untold amounts of time revising a single sheet or two of writing. I remember literally laying on a floor, looking up at the work in my hands over and over again. Six or seven revisions for three to six hundred words was nothing out of the ordinary for me.

What's more, when I wrote a screenplay about Joan of Arc, it took me two and a half years before I was ready to send it out. Why? Because it took me close to a year and a half to complete a single battle scene to my personal satisfaction.

Looking back, I think perhaps it was my experience screenwriting that tempered my view of the revision process altogether (I once worked on draft after draft of a script for a production company). Maybe it was becoming a boxing writer, though, that made me change my opinion (there's no time to dilly dally when a fight has just ended).

Whatever the reason, my views regarding the revision process have changed. I still firmly believe that work needs to be revised, oh, close to one hundred percent of the time. Yet I also believe there comes a point when the writer just has to let his or her work go.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote that he felt he could sometimes actually do better than his best. Believe it or not, I get what he was saying, but I also believe it's wrong for us to try to extend ourselves beyond our abilities on a regular basis. I like to tell my students that my job isn't to read masterworks but to help them become better writers. In short, I want them to know it's actually okay to screw up, so long as they're trying.

Heck, even Shakespeare and Hemingway made mistakes.

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