I have spent the past hour revising, more or less. (Actually, I’ve had the document open for an hour and forty-five minutes; but there is twitter, and gmail, and other things that unfortunately reside on the same computer as my stories.)
Revising is a big deal in the class I teach. What I tell my students around midterm, when their first major revision is due, is that revision, in the case of our Seminar in Composition course, does not mean editing. It doesn’t mean tinkering with punctuation and fixing grammatical errors, polishing up an already finished product. It means to re-see their essays, to treat them like a stage in a process which they are now continuing.
Despite this often repeated reminder, last semester I got a few essays that I couldn’t distinguish from the originals except by holding them side by side and comparing them line by line. I imagine the same thing will happen this semester. As a teacher, it is pretty frustrating. As a writer, I understand where they’re coming from.
The fact is, I’m not sure I even know how to revise. I’m pretty good at editing, and always have been–making prose clearer, more concise or more developed, fixing the sound of sentences.
But the past few days I’ve been working on a short story I wrote in the fall, and it’s been slow going. Yes, I have been revising for (more or less) the past hour and a half. But what is the fruit of that hour and a half? Well, first there’s the italicized three paragraphs I added two days ago. There I did some editing on the sentence level; one line added; the last two paragraphs deleted (and saved in a separate word document, because I’m not sure I want to get rid of them yet). Three lines added elsewhere; a very clunky line added with a bold note to self it needs to be fixed.
All of this is struggling towards developing the layers this story possesses, but in an underdeveloped way. My attempts at fleshing them out feel less than subtle. It does not feel like I’ve done an hour’s worth of writing; and it is a bit frustrating that half of that writing was the deletion of what I wrote last time.
I suppose that’s the nature of the craft, and the only way to learn is by doing. I find I can’t go at it day after day; in order to (re)see clearly, I need to set the story aside long enough to come back and find it fresh–but not so long that it slips away from me and we need to get reacquainted. Right now it is something of an ungraceful dance.
When I draft, I follow my nose. When I revise, I try to see what I’ve done and make it better. What I need to learn is how to see clearly.