6/02/2009

Re-Visioning

You must always be intoxicated. It is the key to all: the one question. In order not to feel the horrible burden of Time breaking your breaking your back, and bending you to the earth, you must become drunk, without truce.

But on What? On wine, poetry, or virtue, as you wish.
- Charles Baudelaire

I'm deep in the throes of revising a pair of essays.

By "deep in the throes" I mean to be dramatic. Really dramatic. As dramatic as a child with a tiny splinter in her finger watching her mother take her by the hand and bring a set of metal tweezers to the wound. Dramatic as the certainty that child has that it will hurt worse to have those metal tweezers burn her flesh (as she is certain they will) than to worry at the sliver with her teeth. As dramatic as a mother steeling herself against her child's pain and denial, sweating and cursing silently, and wishing it were over before it is even done. That level of drama.

Yah. I hate revising.

Maybe it's the storyteller in me - you never get a chance to go back and rewrite your words once their out your mouth and through the air. What's done is done and you just do your best as you perform, to give the clearest metaphors, the most dramatic plots, and complex, but relate-able characters possible. If you fail, well, there's next performance.

But you never get to do that same performance over again.

Not so with writing. In writing, you speak your mind, use the tidiest metaphors, develop those characters and plots over time. Then you look at it again. Or you have someone else look at it again. And you try to find the gaps in the story, look for the missing links to theme, correct for the upteenth time that pesky word that the spell checker always helpfully reverts to something completely unintended. Then you do the process again. And again. And again.

And the idea is that you're saving your manuscript, allowing it to grow and become better than it was before. Tighter, cleaner, leaner, and by extension, more brilliant and wonderful.

The trouble is, there was a rhythm set up to the words in the first draft and to enter that rhythm again is, in many ways as impossible as entering the same stream twice, as philosphers say. It's not the same stream. Those waters have moved on. The rhythm has moved on.

So there I stand on a rock in the middle of a revision stream, looking down-a-ways at the rapids tearing the stream apart and making a muddle of flotsam. There's a flat rock close by, a promise of a new way of looking at the essay, a promise that the vantage from this new rock will be a better one. Problem is that rock is not right next to where I'm standing.

I have to stretch to reach that new place of seeing, and anyone who knows me, knows I don't like getting wet. At all. Other than the purposes of hygeine, water is best watched from a distance in the form of the sea or drunk ice cold while sea-gazing. Perhaps it's about risk or perfectionism or failure, but it ultimately about uncertainty.

What if my current rock, my current vantage point is the best one? What if that other rock, that other way of looking at things isn't all that wonderful? What if I end up dropping the piece into the water where it flows downstream churns against the rocks never to come together again?

Here's the thing - I know revision is critical to writing. I get that I can't just hope that my talent and current skills can bring the essays alive. I've gotta keep letting my art teach me my art or my art will never grow.

So, here's to water of revision. May my drunkeness deliver me to a new way of seeing things and not drown in me in a stream of fearful 'what if's.'

4 comments:

bjanepr said...

Hi Bec, cheers to revision. It does suck, especially when you feel you've exhausted yourself writing the thing in the first place, and that writing process was a sort of purge. And of course you are right, that it's a necessary part of the writing process for a particular piece, and also for the larger writing process/our development as writers. I would like to think it gets easier over time, that years of writing, revising, and editing will enable us to write more succinct pieces, that we'll get to the point more immediately, subject-wise, rhythm-wise, language-wise.

Finally, good luck with these revisions!

kim said...

I thought it was just me! I've though of myself as peculiarly stubborn about revising because I never wanted to go back and tweak or change things. I liked the imperfection and how it stands as a snapshot of my thinking at the moment. I deal with that now by never trashing old drafts, and I date every one. Theoretically, I can go "back" if I want to. Anyway, I learned to revise as an academic and it's always been a violent process of tearing things apart and completely rearranging them. Now that I'm writing creative nonfiction and poetry, I'm learning a more gentle way.

Sending you good writing vibes!

Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor said...

Hi Barbara Jane! I like what you said about how sometimes the writing process is a purge. It can be exhausting for just that reason. I also like how you separate editing from revising. I think for a long time the two were the same for me. I hope it means good things that I'm figuring out the differences.

Hi Kim! Nope, it's definitely not just you, LOL. I do keep older drafts, but I very rarely go back to them, yet I hold on to them "just in case." Revising can be violent! I'm glad you're finding creative writing more gentle.

Thanks for the encouragement, both of you!

Barbara Jane Reyes said...

Hi again Bec, I've been meaning to respond to your comment. Yes I believe revision and editing are two different things. Revisioning is re-envisioning, that space in which you can potentially dismantle the original draft, rethink your approach, poetic voice, etc. It can be an ungentle, even violent but necessary act, which is important to remember - that even in creative writing, the dismantling to zero or the hacking to pieces of the voice and the words does happen - in each individual poem and in the full manuscript itself. So this is also in response to Kim's comment.

Then there's the editing, for music, for "punch," for caesurae, et al. in order to get to the polished, publishable body/manuscript.