Sunday, September 20, 2009

Deep Revision

How do you learn to dive deep to revise your work?

Not just change a comma here, a period there, or correct for grammar, but go really deep in your revisions?

It’s an essential part of learning to write, but few writers talk about revision this way.

All too often extensive copyediting is mistaken for deep revision. But extensive copyediting doesn’t involve the kind of substantive changes in content that deep revision inevitably requires.

Deep revision means looking past the words of earlier drafts–no matter if it’s the first draft or the fortieth--the way you might gaze beneath the surface of a lake to see the bottom. It requires that you refocus the picture in your mind, the one that you’d hoped your words had described adequately the last time you looked at the page, and begin again.

It requires that you recognize your feeling that something is off, not altogether clear, not quite right... and then it requires that you put on your diving mask again and go deep beneath the surface of the words to see if you can find another way of describing what you find there.

That’s why I suspect revisions are called re-visions–because you’re trying, especially in deep revisions, to view your story again, to see anew.

One of the ways to approach deep revision is to acknowledge how different the world often looks from different perspectives.

If you’re standing in the water rather than on the shore, for instance, or swimming below the surface rather than doing the crawl or backstroke, or looking down at the water from a high diving board... you will see the world differently.

And then you have to be open or willing to play with these different perspectives, to experiment with viewing the world from different angles.

The words of your earlier drafts will help you dive deeper if you can imagine the words themselves as diving boards. You can use them as jumping off platforms for new thoughts, new images, that might take the narrative in new, deeper directions.

How does this jumping off process work?

First, you need to grasp on an emotional level what you tried to say in your draft.

Then you have to let go of the words–really let go of the words, the way you let go of gravity when you leap off the diving board–and try again to say what you tried to say the first time. And this time–just as in your earliest drafts–you free yourself to write without judgment or criticism, just letting the words come, to see where they take you.

Each sentence, each paragraph, is another chance to dive deeper into your story and gain a new perspective on the images and pictures and scenes in your head.

A deep revision gives you the chance to look at an idea or scene or character from a completely different perspective, to revisit a scene, a place, a notion, whatever, and to re-imagine it in your mind and find new words to describe your new perspective.

It’s the process of engaging in deep revision that will lead you to a deeper place.

For more information on deep revision, check out these sites:


Jenna said...

Excellent post!

Jude said...

I agree..and quite timely for me as I face my manuscript yet again and try to figure out how in the world, after all this time and all these revisions I can possibly look at this thing again and am I ever going to figure out what I'm really trying to say? I like the idea of imagining the words themselves as diving platforms. Also, as one who has been skydiving a few times, I can totally relate to that very scary feeling of a freefall...but oh, what a wonderful feeling once you've allowed yourself to do it. Thanks, Bruce. Great way to start my REVISIONING day!

Sandra said...

Gorgeous post and lovely to stumble across another 'Deep Diver'.