Once we get over the panic at the blank page or screen and actually squeeze out a sentence or two, in our elation we may yield to the temptation to go back and revise. So we get the sentence as perfect as our original vision can make it. We sit back and bask with satisfaction.
Then what do we have? A sentence. What happened to the excitement that engendered the piece? Heart sinking and mouse shaking, we know we should have gone ahead with the fearsome task of traversing the blankness.
I’m not against revision—far from it. All the articles and suggestions and tips have their place. They wisely advise to attend to the housekeeping: checks of spelling, grammar, formats. The sensitively advise to focus on the craft—conciseness, active voice, repetition, runaway adverbs, overwriting, underwriting. They all matter.
But not yet. We don’t want to squander our energy that will get the damn thing down with the false accomplishment of revision. After pecking out a phrase, the pull to go back and polish it’s a__ off is almost irresistible. That pull impedes the flow, dampens the first excitement, and siphons off the enthusiasm, all to cushion the terror of the blankness. See that lure for what it is—a roadblock that stalls our passion and veers the work into blandness.
May I suggest a method that helps us persist and resist the untimely seductive call of revision? You may think it’s obvious but I strongly attest that it works: I write myself notes, smack in the manuscript. All caps, the notes are shot through with superego (FIX, BAD, WRONGGGG WORD). That’s part of their effectiveness.
So don’t give in. Keep going with that agonizing first draft, no matter how many times it’s peppered with “FIX,” “BAD,” and “YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING!”
The Right Time
You plow on and the teeth-gritted draft, finally, is done. Take a deep breath. Wipe your brow. Sigh. Now get up, leave it. Go out and do something else. Stop thinking about the draft, how awful it is, how it confirms your lack of talent as a writer, how you’ll never get anywhere.
Days later, sneak back up on the piece. I guarantee your reaction: “Hey, not so bad! Sure, rough spots (remember the all-cap notes), but,” you exclaim with incredulity, “I can work with this!”
And . . . line by line, brownie by brownie, beer by beer (if you must), you start to edit. You no longer feel you should be doing new writing, although some will inevitably take place. You don’t feel like you’ve avoided the original work. You’ve managed to retain and infuse the piece with at least some of your original fervor. Now is the time to revise.
Even though we may revise to avoid new writing, when the moment arrives for serious revision, many of us whine about it. It’s not creative or imaginative. It’s boring, plodding, and stuffed with all those annoying grammar rules. Besides, we’re excited about the next sparkling new idea we know we can whip out in perfect first draft.
Avoiding overall revision is almost as foolhardy for good work as avoiding the original writing. So think of revision another way. You’ve produced a rough diamond, not marketable in its raw state. It needs honing and sharpening, close attention to bring out its many dazzling facets. They’re in there; they need the verbal burnishing that only you, the author, can give.
If revision too early thwarts your early zealous expression, revision later becomes an appropriate loving sculpting of your work to its finest. Keep this perspective in mind. It will help you write what you must, get it all down, retain the juice, and stop using revision to stall your writing.
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne has published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, Women on Writing, Funds for Writers, Children’s Book Insider, Transformation Magazine, and Unity Magazine. A story appears in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls (2013). With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has assisted doctoral candidates to complete their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, she is completing a handbook for doctoral students to aid them practically, psychologically, and spiritually. In her 2011 book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books), Noelle draws on examples from her academic consulting and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her webinar about the book is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95EeqllONIQ&feature=youtu.be Website: www.trustyourlifenow.com.