Writing From the Center
Revision: Writing Until You Find Your Meaning
One of the exciting aspects of writing is the process of discovery also known as revision. An idea or image comes to mind, and we sit down to describe it because we want to remember it or share with others. Yet, it often happens that as we write, what seemed so clear and evident at first seems to fade. Or we suddenly find numerous threads of ideas with no pattern. When that happens, just keep writing until you come to whatever feels like the end. At this point you are ready to embrace the process of revision – the nearly magical process of discovery.
Don't Let Your Ego Get in the Way
Like a sculptor standing before a block of marble, you chip away at the mass of words on the paper or screen. You may highlight what has merit and scratch out what does not. You may discover halfway in the article, story, or poem where the real beginning lies. Your heart may race a bit as you reconstruct what you wrote, noting how all the different approaches you had taken to your idea or image are yielding to the very flash of insight that caught your attention. You may return again and again to what you have written and each time delete or add to it, sharpening a line or changing the tense of the verbs or finding just the right phrase to underscore a point. Sometimes, new writers think that revision is a sign that they lack talent or that what they set out to write just isn’t very good. Wrong on both accounts. Revision is the patient, diligent, and many times sacrificial work of discovering where it is your idea or image is leading you. Revision is a process of listening to your words and curbing your ego. Ego can err on two sides – being so harsh that nothing we write ever seems good enough or being so entranced by our cleverness we are unwilling to let go of what no longer serves our meaning.
Finding a Focus
In a writing workshop this fall, visual artist Kathy Fleming began to write about the end of the growing season, sensing that it opened for her a way to deal with a recent loss in her life. As talented an artist as she is, she still carries self-doubt about her artistry as a writer. So she wrote and rewrote and rewrote again the story that follows below. In the seventh version, she recognized she was finally finding her stride and drawing nearer to the meaning that motivated her to write. There is a visual quality to the story we would expect, but what I would underscore is Kathy’s ability to use the image with great care and tenderness to convey her struggle with her loss. A singularity of focus anchors the story. The reader will also note the discipline of the author in not pursuing any number of ideas related to grief. Most importantly, she does not hurry towards a premature happy ending. She is learning something about grief as she prepares her flower beds for winter, but she knows that her process of grieving is not over. Kathy’s meaning is clear and relatable. Without intending to instruct readers on grief, her work “as a sculptor” is a fine teaching about it. Kathy illustrates how rewarding revision can be in finding at last the meaning that asked for your words. Read Kathy Fleming's reflection, Overwintering, here.