Revision is the Answer to a Question I Never Ask

Revision is my least favorite part of writing.

I’m what is generally termed a pantser, i.e. I write by the seat of my pants, making things up as I go along, trusting in fate and coincidence and chance and skill and my subconscious that everything, in the end, will tie together and make sense.

Those other writers, they’re plotters. No one likes a plotter. They talk about you behind your back. They leave post-its everywhere with instructions on what to do and how to do it. They use calendars. Every conspiracy in the world throughout time has been masterminded and implemented by plotters. What more do you need to know?

But revision is where the pantsers and the plotters meet. It’s a giant rave where the goths and the emo kids and the bikers and the stoners hopped up on goofballs all dance like crazy, fighting through the music coming out via stereo speakers the size of minivans.  A rave doesn’t have a plot! What’s going on?! Who spiked the punch?!?!

And yet there’s a plot there in that one person who arrived to the rave late, and was supposed to meet up with his friends at the entrance, except the only person at the entrance is a creepy older dude with slicked back hair and patchy sideburns who keeps opening the door to the warehouse and peeking in. Our hero (i.e., protagonist (i.e., agonist)) decides to avoid that entrance and find another, going around the side of the building, stepping around couples making out, his too-long pants getting soaked in the evening dew, following the sound of the music until he reaches the back of the warehouse and finds a field of grass stretching away into the distance. In that distance, a towering skyscraper without a cradling city. His friends aren’t here. He’s pretty sure of that now.

By the way, I really enjoy making things up. That’s why revision is so hard. It’s not making things up, but making things make sense. Finessing, if you will, a clay sculpture’s details into focus rather than hacking a rough, messy shape out of a block of stone.

Revision isn’t just making sense. It’s also confronting all of one’s flaws. In order to see the need for change, I have to accept the lack of what’s already there. The cluelessly repeated metaphors and images. The shoehorned plot twists. I’m forced to understand that I’m simply not as good as I hoped I was.

As a pantser, I wear pants. This is not pertinent to this discussion.

However, as a revisionist, I have to believe that every change I make is a step closer towards becoming that writer I always imagined myself to be. Someday, perhaps, what’s on the page will truthfully echo what’s in the brain. And if I’m lucky, you’ll enjoy that echo.

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