Last night, while an October mist drifted around the house, and the occasional leaf fluttered against the darkened window, I worked on a revision with clients who are now friends. They drank glasses of white wine – I consumed coffee. Their dining room light was the only light on in the house, and their Boxer prowled under the table, bumping into me, resting his chin on my knee, looking for a little attention.
We have been walking through the three hundred page manuscript, one page at a time, analyzing the marks they have left, stopping at questions I have written in red. We talked about the emotion, the detail. A recorder captured us, in that moment.
Revision is never easy. Revisiting these particularly moving events, difficult. Tears brimmed in their eyes, threatened to spill over, and my throat constricted. Arrows and X’s and notes filled the margins of the paper.
Revisions can look messy, at first.
* * * * *
Mostly, when it comes to my life, I don’t want to revise. I don’t want the first draft pages of my life to look worn, the corners curled. I’d prefer it came out right during the first go. I’d prefer not to go back through it with red pen.
I’d really prefer not to have to say, “I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you.”
But I think there’s another level of happiness waiting for me, if I’m willing to revise my life. There are things I’ve said that need to be crossed out, and there are empty spaces where words or actions need to be inserted. I need to revisit some of the characters in my life’s story. I need to rethink through some of the detail.
* * * * *
This draft, my friend’s story, is beginning to look like a pile of papers that’s been through war: red marker seeps out into the margins, like blood; sticky notes jut out of its side like bandages; huge sections have been crossed out, amputated from the original work.
But this is what it means to be a writer. This is what it means to be alive.
Revision is necessary.
What do you like or dislike about revision?
4 Replies to “(Revised) Words With Friends”
As a kid, I hated revising anything. I wanted to be perfect the first time (in life and writing). I would even skip steps in math, because I just wanted to write the answer.
In college, I started to catch on that it is OK and worthwhile to revise a bit. I will let you know when I am finished with my revisions.
Awesome Post. I have the same thing going on. I think it’s a first sibling thing.. Not sure.
I can revise my own writing to an agonizing extreme if I let myself, but I have trouble letting someone else do so, which I imagine is true for most writers. I think the same can be true in real life. I can look at the things that need changed in my life, but have trouble allowing someone else to take an honest look and say, “David, you need to change this right here. It’s ambiguous (or repetitive or sentimental or whatever).” That’s not easy to take, but ultimately yields the same good as allowing someone to do the same to our writing – a better story.
I like revising, if it’s on my terms. And that’s a revision I need to do, eh? I will say, too, (wait for it, the ubiquitous running reference), running gave me the space and time to revise the tidy little packages I had made of the past. The revisions I made on those runs will carry me happily into the future on the swift feet of grace. Well written, again, my friend.
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