I’ve never really revised anything I’ve written. Not any more than a simple proofread before submitting it for a class or something. If I’ve written it just for me, I get it all out, put it in a drawer or an electronic file, and never think about it again.
It’s not that I’m cocky and think my stuff doesn’t need revision. In fact, I found out today exactly why I never look back: it’s fucking scary. For some reason, I’m immediately humiliated by anything I put on paper, though moments before I felt like I had to put it there, somewhere. I assumed that a revision would just result in my cringing at a myriad of clichés and shitty syntax, a plot that goes nowhere. I assumed I would just have to throw it all out and start over. And I’m not a fan of starting over.
Tonight I did my first-ever, real revision. It was for my final packet (I know, I’m a bad girl). I took my first submission from this semester, way back in February, and made a lot of changes. For starters, I slashed it in half. There were so many parts where I was just writing out my real-life experience with a few name changes to people and places. It didn’t fit the story, but I didn’t know that at the time, since I had no clue what “the story” was going to be. I updated the voice and mindset of my main character, changed some events around and cut others, then went back and fiddled with minutiae here and there before sending into cyberspace.
Two things surprised me during this process.
- The ease with which I gutted my own writing: I guess I’m not as sentimental as I thought. Turns out the only reason I was avoiding revising had nothing to do with “my precious words” and everything to do with not wanting to do the work. Once I dug in, I was deleting whole pages left and right, clearing the clutter. It felt good.
- How much better it was when I was finished: At several points, I found myself saying, “Holy shit, you might actually be onto something. You might actually be able to do this.” Suddenly, after months of stretching out this story and its characters, they began to seem real when I dove back in and started tweaking them. I never had a “bond” with my characters or stories before. All of my little vignettes that I wrote had nothing to do with each other, and after months of sending samples in the mail and not really touching them again, I forgot that I was writing one giant work. I was in denial. Tonight, as I drew on the “experience” of my character in the second and third packets to flesh her out in the revision, I could see her. I could see the story unfurling and began to respect it as something to cherish and mold, not something to stick in a drawer and feel mildly contented with. I truly improved it. It’s hard to do that, to elevate your stuff to another level, and still feel stupid for writing it. Where the stupid was, a strange new confidence has rushed in.
I can’t wait to get on the island and get feedback for my other packets. If I can look back six months and see how much my writing and story have grown, I can only imagine where I’ll be by graduation.
I’m writing a fucking book.