When I wrote poems, what I really loved was revising. Counting syllables, interior rhymes, turning quatrains into couplets, scrutinizing every line break for its potential drama or opportunity. I just loved the shit. Revising prose is another animal completely. There is nothing more thrilling than to read a work that has been transformed through the art/craft of revision. On the other hand, there is nothing more disheartening than to send away a writer with meaningful notes and have them return weeks later with a “revision” when you the know the work required would take a few months.
Sometimes, writers will send me a memo with the revision outlining everything they have done and explaining why they didn’t take certain notes. These documents are as boring as synopses. My only interest is the revision and I want to read it without the benefit of a road map. After all, there won’t be a note for the reader: took out that detail about my mother because she would kill me. Sometimes if you address one change, other problems automatically resolve. I never care if a writer takes my notes so much as uses them. There’s a great charge from working with a writer when the collaboration produces something more powerful than originally anticipated. I think editors live for this feeling; it’s akin to consummation.
There are six basic types of revisers with many variations. They are: the “pay as you play” meaning your revise each sentence again and again before moving forward; the “slasher” who mostly cuts; the “tinkerer” changes one word such as cup for mug and back to cup; the “padder” who keeps adding sometimes to good effect, sometimes not; the “architect” who drastically alters the structure; the “mule” who can not change very much; and the “hawk” who sees it all and kills it.
How do you go about the work of revising? Any advice? Nightmares? Successes? Secrets?
Filed under: Writing