Friday, April 13, 2012

On Revising

You may hear writers-including me- frequently complaining about revisions. If you're an author, you've probably been guilty of this, too. It's not hard to see why we view this as such a chore. After all, nobody likes doing a job twice, much less ten or fifteen times. But there's something we authors forget to mention about revising. It's like our dirty little secret:  

Sometimes, revising is fun.

Now before you scoff and roll your eyes, hear me out:

It's true that most writers really like to write. It's the part of the process that wholly involves our imagination. It's when we get to watch our characters doing and saying things for the first time, and when we're most likely to get caught up in the zen of the experience and let our creative impulses take complete control. It's when we're building the story that we've been thinking about for a long time, and watching it come to life on the page. Obviously, this can be a very exciting experience. It can even be addictive. All too quickly, it can be over. Then come the revisions.

Ugh. Days, weeks, maybe even months of poring over the same story and characters, fretting every sentence, hoping and praying that when it's all done it will have the right pace and the energy that we felt when it all began, but that we've somehow lost along the way. At this point, the words on the page seem to blur sometimes. We've seen them so many times that we could repeat them in our sleep. In what world could this task ever be considered exciting? How could it, by any definition, be enjoyable?

Well, for one thing we can take breaks. We don't have to worry about losing track of the story or the characters because they're already on the page. At this point we can leave the story for a day and just think about it: What if this character said or did something else? What if this happened instead? This is the point where a writer can examine a character for ways to make him or her more interesting. Maybe we can add an accent, or personality quirk. Maybe we can move a few chapters around and increase the suspense, or move the story to a more exciting locale. There are thousands of ways to increase tension and improve pacing, and we consider them all.

This is the act of polishing. This is the act of turning a raw marble statue into a shining work of art. This is taking a lyric sheet and rhythm section and transposing it into a full-blow rock anthem. Yes, it can be dull and repetitive, revisiting those same pages over and over again, and yet every sentence we tweak brings new life to the story. At this point, we have an advantage as well. We know the characters . We know the arc of their story because we've lived it, and we can look back and see ways to improve it that we never would have considered at the beginning of the process. We can take those awkward paragraphs and make them shine. We can take that choppy dialogue and make it witty, snappy, or maybe even profound.

Is it work? Sure. Dull and repetitive? Okay. But it's also a whole new layer, a different facet of what we do, and it's an important part of the process. And sometimes, in an odd way it can actually be fun. 

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