Spirit of Writing Week 6: Edit and Revise…Now and Forever

Change refashions comfort zones and pulls the floor from underneath your feet, and sometimes that floor is covered with fire or glass before it goes so it hurts. When you dream and daydream, as writing is when accompanied by hand-work, you want those dreams and daydreams to remain pure- even if they reveal themselves like nightmares. It does not matter if the nightmare is scary. It is yours.

In Toni Morrison’s novel Paradise, a fire-and-brimstone preacher tells his African-American congregation that hell is not really what they think it is. Instead, “Change is hell.” We want the world to remain the same, even if it is not good for us. Seriously. Some repeat offenders admit they committed new crimes due to a yearning for the familiar pattern, climate and reality of jail. How sad is that? Rather than enjoy the freedom of life and break free of others’ rule and offer up gifts to society, more people than we realize would do harm again just to get out of adjustment, adaptation and change of the outside world.

How many times have you awakened the next morning or brought up in casual conversation: “I had this dream…” ? You recall the dream moment-for-moment and character-by-character as you recall it. Sometimes that dream involves loved ones here and gone. Sometimes that dream reflects your current state and sometimes it reflects a state of place or situation from the past. Dreams have sensations: wondrous, calming, funny, shocking, threatening, suspicious, weird, strange, dark and even sexual. The first, middle and last parts of the dream always stick out and are elements you tell. Depending on how vivid or poignant other elements were, you recall those parts too.

I would be annoyed if someone interrupted me as I recalled my dream, in order to tell me what better dream they had or what they think my dream really was. It is rude. And, because it is only a dream and I have no proof of it, it would be stressful and emotional for me to debate. And, because it is only a dream and another has no evidence of it, it would be very near to calling me a liar to tell me to change my dream or tell a better one.

Criticism and change is the turning point of writing that really sinks many good books never edited or revised or put out into the world. It is so hard to accept criticism and change. It can feel like another has torn down your dream. Now, some people are trying to do that so you have to be on guard. But usually with a success approach and trust of other writers, editors and yourself, you can really turn your writing into something much larger than what you could have imagined. Get used to a cool approach to editing and let other peoples’ imaginations in once in a while. Look at editing as collaborating in a dream…and I have had plenty of dreams where I wanted to wish a helping hand or different path or partner into, but I was knocked out sleep so I could not.

To offer up your work to others, who then offer critiques and suggestions for changes, feels like making up a lie when you sit back down to revise. What was once pure and set is now manipulated, altered and directed. So, you may feel as if you are not a “writer” anymore. I went through that- a lot. It was not all my fault. When I was a child writing and a schoolgirl creating writing projects, I got a pat on the head and high approval for all I produced. As long as the grammar was correct, it was supposedly great. Now as an adult writing, with so much more at stake than a grade or something my relatives pass around the dinner table, I must edit. Over time I  found friends, agents and workshop groups who remind me the audience always comes first–NOT the writer.

This is not to say you let people run over you or convince you to produce a romance when you want a thriller, or you take all the comedy from your work to make it dire. I wrote a post called “Writer Bullying?” That breaks down what can clearly be imagination abuse and even mental cruelty, in the cases of some harsh teachers and just plain insensitive workshop situations I have the misfortune of knowing of or taking part in. And of course, if you are paying someone to help you revise your work you always need a second opinion on that editors’ suggestions and changes; the more extra work you require, the more a preditor can make so be very careful.

This weekend, especially with a long holiday weekend coming up and the end of National Novel Writing Month, respect your accomplishments but commit yourself to EDITING in December. So, by the start of the new year, you will have a project or two ready to go.

If you have not worked on something currently, it is even better. Pull out something you let go or abandoned, feeling it failed or you could not meet the expectations of change and revision required. If an overwhelming consensus or block exists which makes your writing misunderstood or confusing or even upsetting and offensive (within reason, because some topics are just not for everyone), then edit it. Switch from dreaming to daydreaming: where you are not knocked out sleep and out of control, but you can drift away and then wake up when another person or thing (like your potential reader) requires your care and attention.

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