Sunday, October 14, 2018

Long Haul Revisions


Sometimes I think revising one’s work is all about letting go.

Like when you fly a kite and the wind pulls the string out of your hand and you have to let go (or get burned by the string) and you watch the kite flying off on its own?

That’s a little bit what revising feels like at the moment.

I’m feeling helpless to guide the characters. They're on their own now, like the kite, free-floating, each character guided by his or her own inner compass, not mine.

But I’m also feeling, after just a half-dozen revisions, that I’m a much more intent observer, trying to take everything in and get it on paper. 

It’s as if I’ve become a recorder of events as they unfold, a conduit, so to speak, for a story that’s happening inside my head as it spins itself out into the world line by line.

If I’m patient and willing to wait quietly—like a fisherman waiting for a fish to bite—I will eventually feel the tug on the hook and know that it won’t be long before I’ll learn something more about the story and the characters in it.

At the moment I’m printing out the latest batch of revisions for a manuscript that I started back in January.

I’m forging forward using one of my writing teacher’s methods of revising, which means that I’ll need to revise these pages in front of me at least 30 more times (thanks, Norma!) before I consider the manuscript finished (or decide if I need to revise for another 30 drafts).

Well, okay, thirty drafts may seem like a stretch--and sixty drafts, well, that's a bit mind-boggling at the moment--but if that’s what it takes, then I’m willing to aim for a high number of revisions, even though it’s daunting to think of revising the same pages that many times.

But here’s one of the surprises that I've learned over the past half-dozen revisions of this particular manuscript.

Revising over and over again is liberating!

The manuscript is still malleable, still a work-in-progress. It can change and grow.

And thinking about revisions in this way—revisions over the long haul—has taken a lot of the pressure off the process.

Instead of trying to shoo the manuscript out the door like a reluctant calf or puppy, I can take my time. I can give myself permission to look at each character with care. I can listen more closely to each character’s voice. I can better understand their struggles.

Until recently I hadn’t realized the manuscripts that I was shooing out the door earlier in my career were too young, too immature, for the world, unable to stand on their own.

In my head they were finished, but on paper they weren’t done and not quite ready to share with readers.

Long haul revisions may seem like a slow process, but, really, it’s just a process of taking the time it takes to get acquainted with my characters and to learn about them on a deeper level, to understand what’s going on beneath the surface of their lives.

This kind of long haul revising is also a process of waiting for characters to talk, to divulge their stories, to share their secrets, so the story itself expands and deepens in ways that I could never have envisioned if I’d stopped revising in an earlier draft.

Truths and lies slip out of their mouths, or they act in ways that I might never have expected. 

And these unexpected moments of discovery take the story on a path that I could never have predicted. They invest the story with life so the story becomes a living, breathing thing, no longer lifeless words on a page but a record of lives in the process of living, searching for answers, exploring the world, and finding… well, each character finds something different, unique to him or her.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the process of long haul revisions (even on days when I have no idea what will happen next or where the story might be going).

I hope you are finding ways to enjoy revising your work, too!