A question, or maybe more aptly described as a question of process, was the focus of Becca’s Write on Wednesday this week. “Are you in the process of revision? How is it going?”
Becca proffered a variety of revision styles, and I could see bits of myself here and there. Stephen Dixon said,
I start on the first page. Then, I rewrite that page twenty or forty times until it’s right, and then it’s finished. Then, I go to page two and I do the same thing twenty or forty times.
Kent Haruf’s style is,
I polish as I go along. My habit is to perfect individual sentences, individual paragraphs, and individual pages, and when I think they’re as good as I can make them, I feel free to go on to the next part. So when I write the last sentence of the last paragraph, I’m done with the book.
I have been re-reading Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird the past week. She talks about when she knows she has to be done with the revision process, and describes it as “putting an octopus to bed.”
[It’s]…the process of solving various problems in your final draft. You get a bunch of octopus’s arms neatly tucked under the covers – that is, you’ve come up with a plot, resolved the conflict between the two main characters, gotten the tone down pat – but two arms are still flailing around. Maybe the dialogue in the first half and the second half don’t match, or there is that one character who still seems one-dimensional. But you finally get those arms under the sheets, too, and are about to turn off the lights when another long sucking arm breaks free….
Then, even though all the sucking disks on that one tentacle are puckering open and closed, and the slit-shaped pupils of the octopus are looking derisively at you, as if it might suck you to death just because it’s bored, and even though you know that your manuscript is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more, but if you also know that there is no more steam in the pressure cooker and that it’s the very best you can do for now—well? I think this means that you are done.
When I attempted the NaNoWriMo (National November Writing Month – other wise know as bust a gut writing a book in one month) this past fall, I wrote at 172 mph and didn’t go back to look at a thing. That’s the advice they give you at the beginning of November. It was an interesting way for me to write, and after a while, I found it quite freeing. I still haven’t gone back to look at the manuscript, it’s probably all trollop in need of GREAT revision, but it was a fun process. It was different because I usually write fairly slowly. Write a chapter, go back and make some changes, plodding forward at the speed limit. When the whole thing is done, I go back and edit it four or five times, looking for that sublime description, cutting out huge swatches of unnecessary stuff, agonizing over the search for the perfect word. That is my style for fiction writing. For non-fiction stuff – class work and the like – I just take a warm washcloth and give the piece a quick swipe.
In a much broader application, I am in the process of revision. I mean me, not something I am writing. I do this every year around my birthday. This is taking stock time: what have I accomplished in the last year, where am I headed without thinking about it, where could I use some polishing? What new goals could I aim for? What might be interesting to try?
I celebrate my birthday – myself – for at least a week. I take one day off of work just for the fun of it. I start a new class, make a doctor or dentist appointment, connect with an old friend I haven’t spent time with in a while, and I make plans for the coming year. One year I invited all of the most important women in my life to have lunch together. Friends and relatives, neighbors and co-workers. They had all heard about each other, but many had never met before. It was a lovely party – we celebrated relationships, the importance of cherishing each other, and ourselves.
I never worry about dreaming too big. I don’t know who said it, but I read somewhere, “If you don’t create change, change will create you.” I like to have as much control as I can. So I am all for creating change.
This year’s start to the “revision of Qu” list:
- Try yoga (I signed up for a class that starts my birthday week).
- Build a cabin (I mean, literally, me – not have someone else build it – research of pole buildings is in process.)
- Spend a month in Bali (leaving my family for this long will be a huge stretch for me).
- Write a new story (almost done with the final edit – I promise – of the current work in progress).
- Stay with the better health program started at the beginning of the year (more exercise, less meat and sugar – so far so good).
The next couple of days I will continue to add ideas to the list. Who knows what I might accomplish? Along with the quote for the title of this piece, Wayne Dyer said,
I’m here on purpose, I can accomplish anything I desire, and I do it by being in harmony with the all-pervading creative force in the universe.
And it is still winter.