We here at DGLM are big believers in helping authors develop their work. That means that all of us spend a significant amount of time reading, evaluating, and editing proposals and manuscripts so that we can get them in shape for submission. Oftentimes, for myriad reasons, our input extends beyond the selling stage and we get involved in the editorial process after the book is sold. In other words, we spend a lot of time observing the creative process in all its (painful) glory.
Revising seems to be most people’s Achilles heel. I’ve seen even the most confident, successful, unflappable, hardworking authors melt into puddles of insecurity, denial, and rage at the thought of tackling a revision of a work they’re convinced is perfection (or as good as it gets). For every author who loves to roll up his/her sleeves and get to work polishing, adding, restructuring, and (perish the thought) cutting, there are dozens, nay, hundreds who are thrown into existential despair at the thought of revising.
Which is why this piece in the Atlantic is so wonderful. From Khaled Hosseini’s fatalistic “it’ll never be as good as you imagined” to Fay Weldon’s “F—k it! Just start again!” I love the advice and the insights into the writing process, so much of which involves watching the rock rolling downhill after you’ve used every ounce of strength to get it to the top, pausing a moment to feel sorry for yourself, and then taking a big breath and starting the uphill climb again.
I agree with Hosseini that perfection can’t be attained, that all you can do is the best you possibly can and hope that your work strikes a chord and means something to someone. But, to get the thing as good as it can be requires a lot of rewriting, reconceptualizing, reevaluating, all the re’s, including restarting after you think you’re finished. And, in order to do that you need to be mentally and creatively tough. Just because it’s not perfect yet doesn’t mean it’s not good or it can’t be.
What are your thoughts on revising? Is it as horrific a process as many authors make it out to be or is there zen in the art of taking your work apart and putting it back together?