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Editing is veritable cake.

Editing ourselves might mean a trip to the hairdresser; editing our lifestyle might mean getting to bed on time; editing our house might take a can of paint. Editing a WIP means re-tooling, re-telling, and finding and following the right style guide.

But revising–really re-seeing–ourselves, our places and lifestyles, and, by extension, the stories we tell, takes much more time, energy, and lobotomy-level introspection.

Revising is the opposite of cake: not at all light and fluffy. Maybe something more like swamp muck, quicksand, or even asphalt.

Revising a WIP? My condolences. You’re in the muck of re-seeing and re-forming, struggling, hopefully, to once again resurface. Only then can you can catch your breath  to dig in again.

Me, I’m in the last, surface-y editing stage of one project and the first-draft stage of another–the former like frosting, the latter all discovery and flashes of light. (And here’s where the pastry analogy has worn thin, become too tough–ha.)

OK, back to the poor, unfortunate revising soul: to revise a WIP is an act of soul-searching, on the part of the author and the author’s characters. To revise a memoir must be a frightening process of destroying and remaking again and again one’s own image on paper. Bless you, memoirists; you are a brave lot.

I’ll lump the late Jefferson Davis in here–with memoirists, but not with the blessing. If you missed my recent post, I was reading Varina by author Charles Frazier of Cold Mountain fame. (Varina was Mrs. Jefferson Davis, first lady of the false country of the Confederate States of America during the U.S. Civil War.) In this historical novel, which explores the lives of real historical figures, there is a wonderful description of what it means to write and revise, provided by the character of Sara Dorsey.

Dorsey had been something of a writer, herself, and it’s at her home where Jefferson Davis is writing his memoirs (which, after his death, his wife ultimately revised). Dorsey describes the arduous task of writing memoirs this way:

…sitting still at a table draining memory dry to fill blank pages with strong words.

Tough enough. But then she describes revising–on the page but also on the page of history that found Jefferson Davis clearly on the side of the wrong:

…the joy of revising…which unlike life allows you to go back and rethink and make yourself better than you really are. … Even if the work comes to nothing, he will have these days to shape the past, make sense of how the runes fell against him.

Runes or no, what’s your favorite part of revising? Least favorite?

*above photo of a house seen and re-seen all at once, provided by Bill Moon of Port Clinton, Ohio–thanks, Dad!

 

 

16 thoughts on “Revising is the opposite of cake

  1. I hear ya. Really, though I complain, I enjoy revising, too–in the same way I enjoy other things that are good for me, like exercise. And I do plenty of tinkering too. Definitely helps to have a close group of good readers to tell us when we think we’re doing one but we’re actually doing the other!

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  2. I hear ya! So many working parts is why I tried to make my last WIP (what turned out to be novella-length) a collection of interconnected stories–which are on the back burner now–ugh–because they didn’t hold up together well enough. All to avoid the novel-revising process! On the larger scale, revising can be truly painful. Take breaks? Reward yourself with something yummy? Dunno. But it’ll be all sunlight and wonderfulness on the other side. Good luck!

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  3. The worst most difficult is removing a whole character, one you believed earned its place, one you fell in love with … because she/he became superfluous. Knowing when to stop hold your hands up and say, ‘I will keep you for another story, on another page.’

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    1. Yes! Very tough! But you’re right in that “killing off” a character doesn’t mean he/she can’t find another, better place in our work. I (think I have) just finished the last edit of my WIP before I query agents about it. While I’m certainly not finished with the MS, I’m not living with these characters every day, as I once did. And I genuinely miss them–strange but true!

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  4. I’m still editing my first WIP, but I know as I go through, I find bits that sound lame and so I ‘revise’ them. And you’re right, reading something you wrote, that now sounds so much better… perfect!

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    1. Right! Hopefully we become better writers every day, so when we take time off from a piece and return to revise it, we might surprise ourselves with how brilliant we make the passage or scene. That’s my revision hope for the day, anyway!

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  5. I enjoy (sort of) the revising process because I get to play around with the words – I also don’t enjoy it for the same reason. Sometimes I play too long and it becomes frustrating. I enjoyed this enlightening post, thanks for sharing!

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