Saturday, March 1, 2008

Grappling with the Revision Monster

Grappling with the Revision Monster

When it comes to my fiction, I am alternately driven and confounded, which I guess is as good a sign as any that it's worth pursuing.

I came into grad school scoffing at those who might write me off as merely a journalist, since my foundations were always in creative writing and fiction, and since I applied what I knew about that craft to the best of my nonfiction work. I think where I am now in my development is picking at the lock of revision, struggling to open the secrets that lie guarded there. Maybe there's a danger in making too much of this. You simply work at the material until it is ripe, until it moves, until it hits the target cleanly. But then, it must be a particularly sticky challenge since for many the material comes rather easily, but realizing the material's potential takes a great deal of time -- and work.

It is probably also a sign of my still-toughening skin in the matter of writing fiction that whenever I ask for criticism there is the blush of hope that my critic will be bowled over, and the material will have been born whole and perfect. And that when criticism comes, on the first read I fail to detect the positive feedback, and hear only the questions, and the cuts, and then despair that I'm truly in over my head, the secrets won't be unlocked, the way is barred.

Thankfully, I give criticism a second read, and then a third. And begin to calm down. And remember that if my journey has led me this far, perhaps equipped with a thicker skin I can make it a bit farther down the path.

Eventually you've got to shut out the demons you conjure to stymie yourself and focus on the real task at hand, that by dismissing your inner doubts as so much poisonous and unproductive black smoke, you can instead find the real and helpful voices that can lead you from a heap of drafts to a stack of finished pieces.

Yikes, maybe I spent too much time reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow this morning. (In an old supplementary reader, published 1880.) Stripping all the artifice away, I guess I'm saying: Do we ever get over that childlike voice in the heart of us wondering, "Am I any good? Do I have a shot?"

So many variations on the answer to that, when the only one that matters comes from myself. And with that weighty prelude, I dig in to revising, hoping that I find a way for the arrow to hit the mark.

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