Thursday, February 12, 2015

Revision of Re-Vision

Why, Maybe, There is No "Right Way"

Dare I employ that juvenile platitude of internet lingo? *sigh* Oh well: #TBT

Reader, you may recall a post from a few months back detailing my painful relationship with the revision process. In said post, I described the challenges of being a writer who shuns the "rough draft" and prefers polished work from the start, when the writing flows more naturally. In spite of making revision analogous to disfiguring babies, however, my desire to be optimistic compelled me to conclude that post by gently chiding myself for being such a narrow-minded perfectionist. A sort of "Silly writer, one-and-done manuscripts are for egoists."

I thought that was the appropriate response then, but I was surprised to find that several of my readers were confused by my ending. In addition to the sheer incoherence of praising revision after denouncing it, my turnaround didn't seem honest. And after giving it some thought, I've decided that the discussion is worth revisiting. Yes, I am completely aware of the irony of this post. I wrote a post about revision, where 90% of it lamented that the revision process doesn't work for me then suddenly shifted to a rallying cry of "Yay revision!", and am now solving the inconsistency of that post by revising its conclusion.

Yes, I am positively drowning in the rolling, crashing waves of multilevel irony here.
But it also proves my point exactly. I couldn't revise that post the traditional way. I had to write it, put my heart and soul in it, then let it be dead for a few months before even touching it again. By then, with relatively little technical input from others, I could deduce on my own what I needed to make it better. That's what worked for me, but I realize that that's not what I was taught by other writers (whoa, am I being defiant?). Typical revisionary strategies, at least as I understand them, would have me producing multiple drafts of varying polish. The process would look something like this, I imagine:

1. Brain-dump: just write what comes to mind, in whatever order it comes to mind, without stopping to consider coherency or grammar.
2. Rough draft: go back and spell-check, grammar-check, and broadly rearrange as necessary to make it readable.
3. Passable draft: refine for more artistic and detailed elements, like distinction of voices and lyrical prose, so that it looks more like an adult's writing and less like an adolescent's (*cough* E. L. James *cough*)
4. Polished draft: after receiving feedback from others, cut, add, rearrange, or rewrite to fill any holes, solve any efficiency issues, or create more symbolism, using steps 1-3 again as necessary.
5. Final draft: tie any loose ends and clean-up transitions, then proofread and refine details until it is in publishable form.

. . . And that's an extremely simplified model, not taking into account the indefinite amount of times someone could redo, reorder, or overlap these drafts. Essentially, the goal is to be writing constantly in short, relatively close spurts, valuing the frequency and quantity of writing over quality, at least until the final revisions. A worthy goal -- but, for me, it hasn't worked too well. My brain is so wired for detail and conscientiousness that producing "rough" material doesn't come naturally; in some ways, it's more difficult. It's not that I'm not revising -- it's that I'm revising as I write. By the time a sentence makes it onto a page, I've already mentally written and crossed-out rough versions of it a thousand times. Yet I'm also always thinking ahead to consider how one moment of wording will impact the rest of the story (e.g., repetition for symbolism). Essentially, the steps of typical revision are not so much eliminated as they are condensed. Where there are less physical drafts, there are more mental reworkings and planning to produce a final draft in fewer -- albeit, longer and more infrequent -- tries. I'm more content to spend 20 hours straight producing a polished draft in one take than to write a few hours each day revising a brain-dump.
Perhaps it is my conscientiousness for polished writing that makes any kind of change difficult. Whereas other writers might move relatively quickly from one draft to another, I find it excruciating to try to alter something I've already refined so meticulously, even when I know there are holes. I've found that it's easier to put my work aside for a considerable amount of time before going back to it, when I am not so stuck in the rhythm I had when drafting it.

I don't claim that my way of revising is in any way more efficient than traditional models. Granted, I've only worked with relatively shorter works, so spacing out revisions to every six months is probably not conducive to finishing a book within a decade. My habits will probably change in the future as I risk experimenting with other strategies. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if traditional revision models fail to take into account differing minds.

Am I suggesting that some writers need never revise? No. What I'm saying is that, if traditional revision methods don't work for you, it's okay. If taking more time or skipping a few steps is what makes you write at your best, then by golly go for it. I'm aware that my own process is a rather slow one, in terms of individual writing sessions, but I use it because I've found that I'm more likely to make mistakes when I write quickly -- even with proofreading (I guess because I'm not in the flow?). You may need to experiment a bit (in a low-consequences setting) to figure out what rhythm of writing works most efficiently for you. Once you've found it, embrace it. Don't fret if you have to cram your work in one weekend while everyone else writes snippets throughout the week (or vice-versa), or if you have to move on to start new projects before refining a previous one. What's important is that you remain consistent in your (efficient) habits. At the end of the day, while we can certainly learn from other writer's strategies, our process should be our own.

New conclusion: revise as you wish, there's no right way to do it.
Grace and peace to you.

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