making peace with revision

Judging the potential of the final piece based on a first draft is like judging the success of an operation based on a surgeon’s first cut.

There’s the patient, wounded and bleeding. Does the surgeon get upset and abandon the project because the patient is so unfinished? Hopefully not. Surgery is a process, and the surgeon knows that getting all the way through makes all the difference.

Like a surgeon, a writer embracing revision relies on a specific set of skills to know how to mend what’s broken, close the wounds, and leave the patient better off than before the process began.

The creative process of writing and the analytical process of editing are so different they can feel and seem mutually exclusive. We pull ideas from freely roaming thoughts and imagination, getting them down in any sort of way, then we take off the wizard’s cap (or the viking helmet or the aviator’s goggles — whatever works for you) and put on the editor’s cap to evaluate what we’ve written.

What’s helped me is realizing that after the initial rush of getting a first draft written, the rest of the revision process is circular and iterative – a dance of switching rapidly and unconsciously between the two modes of creating and editing.

“Art is exactitude winged by intuition.”
Paul Klee

While in editor mode, I’ll come across something that doesn’t work, automatically switch into creative mode to solve it, then switch back to editor mode to see if it worked or not. Realizing I’m in this cyclic phase of writing seems to give me more freedom to make the most of it.

Entering and re-entering the playful space of creativity, as needed, keeps me from feeling that the creativity is all done by the time I start to revise. Revision becomes a collaboration rather than a conflict of the warring interests of creation vs. analysis.

When you make peace with revision — when you trust the process — every first draft contains the potential for a full recovery.

BONUS TIP: I’ve discovered a great method for putting the final touches on a revision: marry an editor. It’s super handy. I email my final pieces to him and if he can’t decipher something he leaves his office, walks to the other side of the house, and asks me what the heck I meant. It really works for me, though it did require a fair amount of wooing, which might be more than you’re willing to invest in this particular solution.

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