So I remember hearing someone say that one of the difficulties of writing is that you have to create your raw materials. A painter starts with a canvas and paint. A potter or a sculptor starts with a lump of clay or rock*. However, a writer starts with nothing. You pluck words out of your head, string them into sentences, and try to wrangle them into a narrative. Once you write, “THE END,” it is far from the end. You have created a first draft. And that is your lump of clay, your palette of paint. It is only in the process of revision that you actually shape your story.
Right now I am revising a manuscript I originally wrote two years ago in order to get it submission-worthy. Damn is it a rollercoaster of emotion. If you are revising a work or getting ready to, it’s important that you recognize the six stages of revision grief. The better you understand what you are going through, the greater chance you have of surviving the process with your sanity intact.
STAGE ONE: “SHIT. THIS ISN’T THE MASTERPIECE I THOUGHT IT WAS.”
You begin by realizing the imperfections of your first draft. The great soberer Father Time has allowed you to revisit your writing more objectively. And, man, it’s not what you thought it was. Cue crippling feelings of inadequacy.
STAGE TWO: “LET’S DO THIS.”
You accept that this isn’t the best you can do because it’s a draft, after all. So you roll up your sleeves (literally and metaphorically) and get to work.
STAGE THREE: “OH, MAN, THIS IS SO MUCH BETT–AW, CRAP. NEVER MIND.”
You plan. You rewrite. You add. You delete. You rearrange. Things are starting to look good. Aaaaaaand then you realize you effed up some major plot point or just generally went a little too crazy with the scissors and glue.
STAGE FOUR: “MAYBE I SHOULD JUST WRITE A NEW BOOK.”
Crushed by the tangles mess you’ve found yourself within, you consider just tossing the whole damn thing into the trash can, dousing it in lighter fluid, and tossing in a lit match.
STAGE FIVE: “NO–I WILL DO THIS.”
You dig back in. You sort things out. And you see things through to the last page.
STAGE SIX: “HUZZAH!”
Stepping back, you reread that manuscript and realize it is now much closer to the masterpiece you thought it was. For the sake of your sanity, you ignore the fact that there may be additional rounds of revisions in your story’s future.
So there you have it, fellow revisers. You are not alone. Know where you are and have faith that you will persevere.
*I am not a painter or a sculptor, so I apologize if this is an unfair characterization of their process. Just go with it for the sake of metaphor!