If you’re a writer you know how important revision is. It’s a process, possibly a more difficult, longer and more involved process than the actual creation of your work. Writing is easy compared to revision. You sit down and write. That’s it. Maybe you’re inspired, maybe you have a story outlined, maybe you’re following the lead of one of your characters or maybe you’re writing a personal essay or editorial that involves using research and/or quotes from other people in your piece. Whatever you’re doing, you do it and then you’re done. And once you’re done – that’s when the revision begins.
And for me – that’s when I want to quit. Throw in the towel, hide under the covers and just move onto the next thing. I’m not afraid of hard work – I revel in it. And the revision process can be exciting and it is certainly just as creative as the actual writing process, but the thing about revision, at least for me, is that I never know if I’m making something better or making something worse. And I hate that not knowing.
Take my memoir for instance. I wrote a first draft and gave it to a few people to read, not sure what it needed – just knowing it needed serious work. And I took that feedback, cut a bunch of things people told me to, shifted focus, expanded on the things I was told to and this took months. I mean the process was a lot more than what I just described, and it was painful and exhausting and once I was done I paid an editor to give me feedback and she wanted me to put in everything I took out, shift focus again, not expand on the parts I just had… it’s enough to make you want to cry.
Now after two years, I can’t say that I’m any closer to actually getting my manuscript to where it needs to be. I’m not confused about the story I am trying to tell, and I know what I’m doing in terms of actual writing, and I read books like crazy, but I’m still no closer to figuring out the next step and what I need to do to get this story to go to the places I need it to.
I’m always big on doing something all the way. Don’t hesitate, be sure and go there and don’t look back. But for all of the wrong directions I have already taken with my book, I feel so completely lost – how am I not supposed to hesitate? I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing!
And that’s what revision is, I think. You want to make your piece better, and make it everything you know it could be, but you don’t necessarily know how to make it better – what it needs, what it doesn’t, and what to do or not do. It’s like an endless process of trial and error. I hear about people who have been revising manuscripts for seven years and I want to cry. “That won’t be me! No way, will that be me.” And you know what, at this point, I seriously think it is going to be me.
Why can’t there be a magic roadmap or something? I’m not impatient – the revisions can still take years, as long as I can be sure I’m not going to go back, I’m not making it worse or going in the wrong direction. I’m ready to do the work and take the time, for as long as it takes, but I don’t know if I’m ready to fail again. And that is what each wrong turn feels like – failure. I mean, who likes failing? And usually if you fail there is a learning experience attached, but going the wrong way with my revisions, doesn’t actually give me such a lesson beyond, “This doesn’t work at this point in time, for this particular project, but it may work in the future, so please try again.” What the hell!
So, I ask, how do you know where to go with your revisions when it’s time to revise? How do you handle years of wrong turns, directions and endless backtracking? Why isn’t this working when you have a clear vision, a clear story, and one that is actually marketable (and you’ve done that research too!) when you actually know how to write? Seriously, I implore all other writers out there, I know I’m not the only one who feels the pain of, “What the fuck am I doing?” Like in those game shows… I really want to buy a clue.