I Give Up

Revision begins the same way every time, as does almost every writing session. I start by wanting to quit. I do quit. I randomly click around on the Internet then I return to the work. I reread the stuff I intend to revise and abandon it again. It’s a frustrating, unproductive, s-l-o-w process.

After quitting for the second time, I get up out of my chair, maybe straighten the pillows on my bed, leave the room, walk downstairs, refill my coffee cup, and start a load of laundry.

Then I return to the page, after perhaps straightening the towels in the bathroom, perhaps vacuuming, maybe even washing the dishes. But I do eventually return.

I rewrite a sentence. Then another. Remind myself of important aspects of the work, for instance, what’s the story. Does this sentence apply or not apply to the story. Are there any concrete details here that ground the reader in the story experience. Well if not, dammit, then add some. I remember what I learn from clicking randomly around the Internet. For instance, Chuck Adams, a senior editor at Algonquin Books advises that writers stop writing and start telling a story. That’s practical, useful advice. Another writer advised recently (can’t remember who) that no character should spend more than a page or two alone in a room. Get them out into the world. In today’s plot-driven novels, that’s also good advice, though there are plenty of good books where characters spend lots of time closeted with their own thoughts.  These are not, however, mystery thrillers and when that is what one is writing….then stuff better keep happening.

Anyway, I let my instructors sit and give me advice, help to prod me along, and maybe begin to make some progress.

I get up again. Take a break, maybe reheat the coffee that’s grown cold, change the load in the laundry, and come back to it again after doing the requisit checks of email and social networking sites. Then I really buckle down and get serious for an hour or two, immersed in the work.

Maybe it would be better to approach revision like musicians approach their art through rehearsal. They start out with rudiments, scales, tuning. Then they get out the sheets of music they intend to learn how to play better. And keep at it. The first draft is a piece of music and the writer just needs to take it out and play it, make it fit better to their particular instrument, heighten, darken, speed up or slow down to make a continuous, harmonious piece of work.

So even though part of the ‘practice’ I bring to every revision session doesn’t necessarily have me pounding away at the keyboard, I need every bit of the coming to and going away from the piece to make it better. All of the starts and stops. Along the way maybe my pages are working better, the laundry gets done, the house gets a little cleaner, and I get a bit more caffeinated…it’s all part of the process.