Tuesday, March 11, 2008

First Impressions

1. First drafts are like first impressions. They are, in a metaphoric sense, an exposure of a venue made with a medium- or large-format camera, stunning in detail. Ah, perhaps too stunning in detail.

2. Each successive draft removes details or, to extend the metaphor, Photoshops the details, adding or blurring clarity, enhancing contrast, cropping.

3. The results of revision are the gifts we receive from our human condition. These gifts come in the form of awareness, sometimes awareness of things we've neglected to mention, other times in the awareness of things we didn't think we knew.

4. No matter what they tell you, metaphor and connected dots are important in the things you write. The more you see this, the more confident you are about not having to use italics or footnotes to see similarities or connecting links.

5. One way of looking at revision is as a way of bringing the reader into your landscape to make his own metaphors and connections.

6. Another way of looking at revision is to consider it a way of removing digressions and throat clearings and ruminative pauses from your voice.

7. Yet another way of considering revision comes from taking the word revision at face value, re-seeing the work to the point of wondering it it can begin in a better place than where you have begun it, end in a more charged manner than the one you saw first in an earlier draft.

8. Revision is saying good-bye to unnecessary explanations and, heaven help us, long speeches.

9. Revision is seeing your work fresh, which means tossing out things that are not fresh, things that have begun to grow a mold or dust bunny, or taking such things that are moldy and dusty and recasting them so that they are fresh.

10. Revision is, ultimately, knowing what you have here.

11. Revision is removing the scaffolding, folding up the drop cloths, vacuuming the sawdust.

12. How do you know when you have completed the process of revision? You know when it comes to you in an insightful flash that no one but you will be affected by the changes you have made.

13. Suppose--just suppose it is all right on the occasion of the first draft? If it is all right on the first draft, you have probably copied it from someone else's revision.

14. What are you going to do about the latte you made yourself earlier this morning? I am going to revise it because I need to see it again.


Unknown said...

I hated the revision process for some time, but as I grew more apt at critiquing the work of other people, and standing up to the critiques I received, somehow being able to slice and dice my own story to see if it would still stand is fun. It's a challenge, and a refined and stronger tale comes out the other side of it.

z said...

But there is also such a thing as overrevising, revising something to death with all that tinkering, losing the freshness of the first draft. I've done it with both writing and painting. For me, adding a huge chunk of time separating the first draft and the last revision helps.

Anonymous said...

Perfect timing. Thank you.

R.L. Bourges said...

Much to think about. Particularly intrigued by 5.