Monday, August 5, 2013

Like life, revisions really are the hard part

Over and over again...yes, you need to do that, no matter how much your brain is shutting down at times.

You have to do this hard part. You need to go over the same pages - again and again and again. You have to.

Seldom does it get put down in finished form from the beginning. That's the nature of the beast - the writing beast, and then life, too. Requires practice - this business of creative writing, this business of living.

You sense what is either wrong, or at least not quite right, what gets off balance, what, when read by someone else, doesn't quite convey the intended meaning. Or the phrasing was awkward, or you lost a sense of perspective and put something there important to you perhaps, but not at all to a reader. Or you lost the thread, or thread(s) of the narrative because you got distracted, or absorbed somewhere that sent you off center.

Which is why choosing the right readers is also important - the ones who can critique with a little distance. You need to choose them carefully. Otherwise, they can also throw you off center, get you distracted over problems that may or may not actually exist.

This second round of revisions on what I no longer call my memoir or more-than-memoir (was leading to some misunderstandings about the book's fundamental intention) has been challenging - and essential. When the leader of my critique group finally iterated the flaw that appeared in the latter half of the book - the thread that was dropped somewhere along the way of the drama - it was like the scales falling from my writers' eyes. And now, when I have the precious hours this requires, I take that thread from where it was dropped and reweave it through the narrative - and the whole thing snaps back into focus.

Writing is indeed s solitary vocation, sometimes intolerably so. If you can't bear long periods of sustained solitude, you can't be a writer. We know that. But we also forget that writing is also fundamentally a community affair. The best writing also happens in the intimacy of a trusted community with whom the writer shares the ideas and the narratives, tests the voice and points of view, seeks feedback and even the catching of a syntactical or grammatical error or two.

Which requires a wee bit of humility, which requires a wee bit of vulnerability, which also requires a good dose of self-confidence - and these things do not necessarily come easy for any of us. But these things do make for the best writing, especially in creative non-fiction and poetry.

Like life. A lot of the quality of our creative work, no matter what it is, requires these things: humility, vulnerability, openness to adaptation and change, non-clinging to words or concepts if these are not working, ability to let go, and then, of course, things like honesty and trustworthiness.

When we speak of how such things are required for the writer, they just look to me like things required to be human.

Which is another reason why writers and artists are so important, pointing as they do, if they are any good, to what it means to be human.

If you want a sublime example of what I mean, go out right now and get Gregory Orr's new volume of poems, River Inside the River. If some of these poems don't take your breath away, or make you gasp out loud, I'd swear you were dead. The section, "The City of Poetry," is all about the meaning of, well, poetry, its urgency and essence. I will go back to it often as I try to let my poet-nature emerge more fully, to help it find a bit more courage, to become braver.

Okay, enough of this. I need to get back to the other computer, the old one not hooked up to the internet, the one in the small quiet room where the creative writing goes on (when not on a bench with my journal by the lake shore). If you are at all curious about the others things I care about and write about in my "work" world, give a visit to my Spirituality and Ecological Hope blog for a whole bunch of essays on the mess we are making of our world and where the hope lies. These things shape a lot of the point of view with which I approach my creative writing, the heart (the broken one) and passion, the things I care about and want to write about.

Really, if you take on the full meaning and scope of doing revisions, the mission of revising, you find yourself in a practice that can shape a whole approach to life. We're not done with us. We can go back and find those threads, re-root, re-focus, over and over again - until it feels right. Then, you send it out into the world.
Born of sorrow,
Yet the joy of making it.  ~  Gregory Orr

 Photos:  Margaret Swedish

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