A Year Without Revision
My writing life has changed quite a bit in the last couple of years. Just a few years ago, I wasn’t writing at all. I had gotten to a point, after quitting an MFA program I didn’t like, where I thought my writing was the worst it had ever been. It was a combination of not only producing ghastly stuff but having enough knowledge to realize it. I put away my drafts, packed them into a box, moved to another town and put the box in the basement. Over the course of four years or so, I embraced the satisfactory notion that I wasn’t a writer.
When I finished a story, I moved on. I didn’t look at it again. I didn’t revise it. I didn’t give it another thought.
Near the end of 2009, I caught a whiff of something different. I’m not sure from where. Perhaps I picked up a craft book. But it compelled me to sign up for a one-day fiction workshop, where I had a frank conversation with the instructor. It came down to this: I had never finished a piece of writing. She asked me why. I didn’t know. During the writing exercise portion of the workshop she told me to forgo the assignment everyone was doing and write solely about why I didn’t finish what I started. I wish I could remember her name now and thank her.
The reason came down to lack of commitment. And yes, I had gotten discouraged along the way, but I gave up on myself. At home, I hefted the box out of the basement. I approached the manuscripts tentatively, knowing that if I were going to go down this road again, I’d have to commit. I signed up for more writing workshops. I sat at the computer, working out the kinks. Commitment stood nearby, looked over my shoulder.
By the end of 2010, I was ready. I declared 2011 to be The Year of Writing. I would write one short story per month. I would finish it and then I would move on. That was my goal and that’s what I did. I wrote. I moved on. I didn’t revise it. I didn’t give it another thought. I cranked out sentences like a machine. By the end of the year, I had seven stories. Okay, not twelve, but I was okay with that. I had set my mind to the act of writing and came away with a lot more than I had the year before.
What I learned during The Year of Writing was the value of finishing a story, of staying with the characters long enough to see who they were. I also learned how valuable it is set aside a piece of writing for several months before coming back to it for revision. How different it looked with fresh eyes! How wonderful to gain the perspective and see the story come into focus. In the past, I had gotten very wrapped up in revising unfinished stories, tweaking beginnings and middles. Everything seemed out of focus, made worse by more tweaking. Tweaking is not revision. I know that now.
Tweaking is not revision.
This year, 2012, is The Year of Revision. I’ve dedicated more time to writing and am juggling the act of writing with revision. Major revision. As in tearing it apart six times and rewriting scenes, and then throwing those away and writing entirely new scenes. It’s liberating.
I tell you this because if you’re feeling stuck or like you’re spinning your wheels or like your stories aren’t going where you’d like them to go; if your writing isn’t going where you’d like it to. Try what I did and simply focus on writing. You don’t need to take a year. Take a couple of months and just write as much as you can without judgement or edits. Don’t revise. Just finish. Move it to the pile and start your next piece. You might be surprised where it gets you.