I received an email containing a Wall Street Journal article written by Allegra Goodman talking about revision and thought it was an excellent topic to share on a Monday Morning. A hat tip goes to my lovely Aunt Dianne in Belgium – she finds me the most delightful things!
As a girl, Allegra craved a book that would explain the art of writing in the same concise way that they taught her other subjects. Finally, she stumbled across a book that did just that in Aileen Ward’s biography, “John Keats: The Making of Poet.”
Not only did she learn about Keat’s life, she also learned about his writing process. Keat’s was never satisfied with his first attempt, he revised each line to be stronger and better. In her words she learned, “Even the great ones work for greatness.” The idea of not having to write perfectly from the beginning, was liberating. Suddenly, anyone with a with little talent and plenty of hard work could be a writer.
The biggest point that Allegra makes is about unraveling the myth of the art of writing being a ‘”matter of instinct.” Many believe that, as artists, the first thing that hits the page is the most immediate and fresh. What they may not recognize is that it is also conventional. Revision isn’t just for essays or school assignments, fiction greatly benefits from it as well.
Revision give us the chance to clarify our ideas by finding stronger words to describe our thoughts, cutting redundancies, and eliminating clichés.
I find that it is during revision that I can make my thoughts shine and take on a life of their own. The manuscript often reveals facts that I need to know about my characters or scenes. I can then go back and add important details, helping the reader better experience my world. I write my rough drafts with the same finesse as a chain saw; sloppy, quick, and to the point. Revision is like fine carpenters tools, whittling away the bits that obscure the art beneath.
Don’t take my word for it – read Allegra Goodman’s article.