Thursday, July 05, 2012

Revision Revisited

 Matthew Salesses wrote an outstanding article on revision at Necessary Fiction the other day, and it inspired me to think a little about what rules I have for revision, since it's mostly all I do. There are no hard and fast rules - a random Google search will generate hundreds of equally good suggestions - but what I liked best about the 'thoughts' Matthew shares is that they're fairly unique. Most how-to's and guides you will find on this subject are very clinical and technical. Do this. Do that. Writing is rewriting, and writing to me has always been a very intuitive process.

The best one maybe the first:
1. To me, the most important question to ask as I revise is: Am I bored here? The best “advice” I’ve ever heard on revision was from the wonderful teacher and writer Margot Livesey. It was something like this: if you are bored, it’s not because you’ve read that section so many times, it’s because it’s boring.
A lot of the time as a writer, you spend so much time with something, you lose perspective on it. Writing a novel for me at least is something like a relationship, so I'd offer this thought:

Writing a story, novel, play, what have you, will in some way, shape or form mimic the ups and downs of a typical relationship. There will be passion. There will be boredom. There will be fits of rage. Doubt. If you're lucky, at the end you'll find a comfort and a connection to something more than yourself. If not, you will have at least hopefully learned a valuable lesson. 

I spent four years of my life with The Book of Elizabeth. At times, I hated this book. Others, I doubted my faith in it and myself. And at the end, I found a respect for it and my own ability.

I think by understanding this, you will have a sense of the needs and wants of revision. These are two different things. The needs of revision are not necessarily obvious. The wants usually are. A story will want something - an exciting scene, a different character, a different point of view. You will doubt your fidelity to the story as it is and you may or may not indulge these wants.

A story will need attention. Clarity. To hear itself. Fulfilling these needs may come naturally or you may spend a lot of time guessing at them, but knowing that you will may help you get there.