Why is it so hard for me to read what I’ve written?
Is it because my finished work threatens my life?
This is one major reason that revision has always been so hard for me: it is a feeling akin to pain (or extreme embarrassment) that overwhelms me when reading my own work.
There are some writers who go over their work so many times that by the time they have a finished product they can recite the entire work to you backwards. There are others who write like the wind without thinking about what they’re writing, really, until they are done, machines of production. I’ve always been somewhere in-between. I rarely put down a sentence or even a word without confidence that it is the right word at that exact moment.
This writing behavior engenders a popular fantasy (to be both pompous and wordy). Namely, that when I’m done writing something, whether a play or a poem, a story or an essay, I feel like the work is the best that it can be. Or, more specifically, that it is the best I can conceive of at that time.
Of course, the work of revision is to re-conceive.
The first problem is that it takes some time before I’m able to reconceive. Some say a few days, some say nine months. For me, it usually takes someone else’s opinion to spark me forward, whether their criticisms are ones that I agree with or not.
The second problem is that aforementioned difficulty in reading what I’ve written. Those things that are the longest are the most in need of revision (just as a matter of statistics – they are longer and therefore probably have more problems) but the longer something is, the more afraid I am of reading it.
And afraid is the right word. What am I afraid of? That all the effort gone into the writing will be proven a waste of time? That the writing itself will prove me a talentless hack? That the dream that I struggled to make flesh (well, okay, paper) will have died out, gone extinct, my imagination exhausted?
All of these possibilities, of course, populate my brain.
And in the midst of revising – or, in the case of GOD’S TEETH, reading through with an eye towards revision – I do everything I can to stall myself. It took me several months to read through GOD’S TEETH simply to take notes regarding what I wanted to revise when I actually got around to revising. I would wander off into the wilds of the internet. I would play games. I would read books. I would stare off into space. I would be so dedicated to the idea of reading the novel, but after a few minutes of hard reading would find myself, completely without conscious awareness, doing something else. I feared points in the novel that I was convinced were problem points, feared exposing myself to them as their creator, and owning their faults as my own.
The thing is, that when I reached those points they were never as horrible as I’d built them up to be in my mind. In fact, they were actually pretty affecting. In fact, in reading over what I’d written I recaptured some of the vision that first drove my writing.
In fact, realizing my writing isn’t as bad as I thought is the fuel I needed to fire my desire for revision.
So, excuse me a moment. I’ve some work to do.