Revision

If you’re a writer, you know the word already. Hell, you probably dread the word. Time for budget cuts.

Or if you’re like my brother, every revision adds still more to the tale. C’est la vie.

“In Wilder Lands,” my brother’s book.

The fact is, at some point, we come face to face with the specter of our finished draft and we are forced to ponder: how shall I be altering you today, my sweet? Will you be carving out some of the old? Adding bits of new spices? Or simply flipping some of the meaty bits and shifting the details around?

Hungry yet? Good. So am I. Make yourself a snack when we’re done here.

The purpose of revision is, above all else, to hone what you have to…well, let’s call it the purpose of your novel. Revision is removing the extraneous and shoring up the rest, smoothing your characterization, action, and all the other good bits to flow into the heart of what makes your novel so special.

The ultimate goal is to make your novel the best it can be. Tragically, you will lose a lot of good stuff to get there—not because you found fault with the words even, no, but because it didn’t add to the book. It may not harm it, all snuggly and warmly tucked into your book there, but unfortunately in the novel business you have to do one better than “but it doesn’t hurt!”

Ruthless. Potentially with a side of crazy.

When it comes to revision, you must get ruthless.

You will lose pieces of humor, doses of character interaction that swell your own self with pride at how they shone—but if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. If you’re smart, you’ll stick these little gems into files or folders or cast them to the world for nostalgia or entertainment. But you have to realize that cherish them as you might, you may also never see them again.

Now, while some of the younger audience (I’m looking at you, reader #3) pauses to consider what that little rhyme was a reference to, I’m going to go take a scalding shower now, as I know all too well.

But before I go, and perhaps most importantly, I know that many authors look at their books, their poems, their essays and what have you as their children, their lovers, their…well, you get the sappy little picture.

Don’t.

I say this not because I’m a heartless fellow, but rather because I recognize the woes of having too much heart. Cherish your creation as exactly that—your creation, your accomplishment, but if you begin to add such words to the thing, binding it ever more dearly to your heart, then you’re going to feel the part of a bloody murderer when you have to take an axe to it.

And you will. It’s part of being a writer. You write, you chop it up, trim the fat, and shape it ever so carefully into what you truly want it to be. That’s revision. Then you watch someone else take a chainsaw to your carving and play around with what comes out.

No one likes to think they just chain sawed their kid. Although, in hindsight, it probably does explain why we drink so much. Also: why editors get such a bad rap.

A bottle of American rye whiskey

The whiskey. Coming for writers since…the dawn of whiskey? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Great Matter: Rejection

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.” 
~Elbert Hubbard

Elbert Hubbard

Elbert Hubbard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rejection, they say, is the path to any success. Somewhere in the trial, a trail is dug so deep, honed to such a true and sharpened progression, that no great winter or man could tear it back again.

Yet there is an issue with the process.

Writing, it is known, is the field built upon this trail–that is to say, that rejection is a natural piece of its process. All will face rejection in one form or another before they find their “in-road,” be it to great or little success. in its way, it makes sense. Rejection teaches us endurance. It teaches us to weather the bad weather until truth will find us out.

The problem: how do we know?

Much as children are told: oh, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up, there is a certain lie hidden in the equation. As most can attest, not everyone can write–just as not everyone can do quantum physics or fly a plane. You wouldn’t want them to. God help you if you do. If our entire industry is based on rejection and the light at the end of the tunnel, however, then what if that light never seems to come? When do we know it is just another rejection on that trail to something more, or simply rejection of inferior work?

In our system, rejection is supposed to strengthen us. Harden our determination. But what if it shouldn’t be hardened? Are we bad writers or merely struggling writers–the question we all must ask.

A pickle, if ever there was one. Try, try again whisper the mouths of the successful. Edit and review, your English teacher lectures. Do as we do, boast the self-help brigades. Do anything else, announced the rest of the world with a shrug.

But passion won’t allow such desertion, and frustration is the end result. All men, after all, have their breaking point.

The simplest answer, I know, remains: never give up. But I know as well there is more to the wisdom, a greater and more profound explanation this young mind–known often to failure but little, as yet, to success–has not the words to lend it. So, blogosphere, if you’re out there and you’re reading, I turn this post to you in the form of a question: what is your advice to the writers of the world? Because I’m not so silly as to think I have the answers.

“In a world flagrant with the failures of civilization, what is there particularly immortal about our own?” 
~G.K. Chesterton

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