Revisions and the Graceless Art of Being Done

I write a lot.

Mostly, I write for work. Less frequently than I would like, I get to write for fun or in support of some hobby or another. Neither setting is particularly enjoyable. Both, however, are incredibly rewarding. If that distinction makes any sense.

I’ve had the chance to talk to some writers that are personally in love with the process and the experience of writing. The actual act of composing itself. I think it odd that they can pull so much pleasure from the laborious process of writing. It’s amazing and I’m happy for them. For me though, that simply is not the case. For me there is no adrenaline-esk, in-the-moment high from tapping away at my keyboard. For me, it’s more of an endorphin-like euphoria that only comes from finishing a piece of work.

Think of it like exercise. I’m not having a good time when I’m two thirds of the way through my second mile-long run and I’m staring down the barrel of how many pull-ups I can squeeze into sixty seconds before I start the third mile. I’d much rather be drinking a beer and talking to my son about which Avenger is the coolest. That, just as a quick aside, changes almost hourly.

No. Working out is not a “good time”.

It sucks. It’s painful. It’s good for me. I want to quit. I’m not as strong or as fast as I used to be. My wife likes the results. I’m not a quitter. Turning forty this fall is gonna suck. Harrumph!

But, I’d really rather have that beer and enjoy my six-year-old’s deontological deconstruction of the Hulk. Working out is not fun. It is, however, incredibly rewarding. I’m so much happier with myself when I do it than when I don’t.

Writing is a lot like that for me. The process is painful and the result is never quite exactly what I had envisioned. The sense of accomplishment and pride at having raised my chin, buckled down and done the thing instead of just talking about the thing gets me stoked. I am in love with the feeling of being done. Finished. Completed. For a stubborn perfectionist, that isn’t a feeling that I get to enjoy all that often. Still, I get the Pavlovian pellet frequently enough to motivate me.

So here’s the deal. I have managed to find joy in revision.

About a month ago I completed the rough draft of a novel. It’s the first in a series and I have no shortage of story to tell. Getting this first book out of my head and onto the page was excruciating, though. I write in the evening. I have a wife and kids that I’m lucky enough to enjoy spending time with. I occasionally like to see my friends or to work on other projects. Oh yeah, I have a very full-time job and I sit on a variety of boards. Like most active people, there is a constant war with many fronts and factions being waged on the battlefield that is my life. Writing finds a way to compete.

After the draft was finally expelled from brain to MS Word, I took a few weeks off to give myself a break and to putter around with the next book. I have now returned to the first manuscript and it is a mess. Some parts need a couple of comas and then they are good to go. Some sections need to be stricken entirely. Most, however, just need a lot of love. Story consistency, timeline continuity, grammar, punctuation, person, tense and tone all need attention.

I find myself looking forward to the quiet hours of the evening when the kids are asleep, the garden is tended, lunches are made, and Zuzi is working on her own projects. I can pull a chapter, a scene, or even just a sentence and lavish attention on it. I get to explore questions like, “What is this word trying to accomplish?” and “Is what’s in my head actually hitting the page here?”  It’s finicky, nit-picky work and it’s just a ton of fun.

And I need it to be finished.

I’m not a proud author. I’m perfectly content to hack and slash the crap from my writing. In that way, and for me at least, revision isn’t a hardship. Still, there is most definitely a perfect vs enemy of the good thing at play with re-writing something the size of a novel. The challenge for me now is to put myself on a schedule for the re-write. I have to be content with really, really good and then move on.

I need to do this so that I can begin the laborious process of puking out the manuscript for the next book. Which will be way less fun. But, I will do it.

… so that it can be finished.

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5 thoughts on “Revisions and the Graceless Art of Being Done

  1. If all goes to plan, thousands and thousands of eyes will get the chance. The “legendary” bit certainly sounds intimidating, though.

    You volunteering to critique the draft? ;-P

    I still have a few hurdles before I feel that it’s ready to shop to markets. I would like to get an agent to handle those issues. Securing an agent is one of my near-term goals.

    • Well, I’m waiting for the next Game of Thrones and the next Kingkiller Chronicles books to come out so I have some space in my reading diet for another fantasy book. I am assuming this is fantasy. I might be game. By the way, the Patrick Rothfuss books are awesome if you haven’t checked them out. I give them… the no suck guarantee!

  2. Y’know, I really love rewriting. Editing. Trying to figure out what I really want to say (or ask), and trying to find any sort of cool resonances that escaped me originally. Which is nearly all of them.

    The first draft of anything is only fun if I’m telling myself a story, I don’t know where it’s going, and nobody interrupts. Though…when it does all come together, it’s a great feeling.

    But…done? I’m not such a fan. For me it’s more fun to be in the flow of things. Finishing just means I have to figure out what project will be next.

    Hi, by the way. We spoke a couple of times a few years ago, and went out for a beer once. I didn’t know you were a writer.

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