"The first thing that has to be broken down is your relationship to authority. Your insecurity could possibly be the wedge that opens up your perspective on what you think it is possible for you to do." -Ross Bleckner
I love to revise. Writing a first draft (I mean, of a short story or the article I'm supposed to be writing for http://www.historylink.org/) can feel hideous, horrendous, hateful -- like pulling one's own teeth with a pair of pliers -- like the sound a dentist drill makes. Okay, so it doesn't feel that bad all the time. But sometimes.
Revising, on the other hand, because it doesn't begin with the blank page, is more like a playground. While I revise, I often find myself writing new pages, too, or at least lines and short paragraphs that fit into the original with asterisks and arrows directing the flow. I start with My mother reads mystery novels, only mystery novels. But by the third or fourth go-round, the line reads, The bookshelf in my mother's bedroom overflows with mysteries by Agatha Christie, J.A. Jance, Lilian Jackson Braun, Mary Higgins Clark, and Mary Daheim, but when I ask her what she's reading, she smiles vaguely. It's a mystery, I think, and then I say it aloud. "Of course," she says.
I don't know why my students -- usually -- don't like to revise. Maybe they think revising is going through and fixing errors. Putting the commas in the right places. Adding stronger verbs. But revising, etymologically, means "re-seeing." And re-seeing is what makes it feel like play to me. I read my own work, pen in hand, and it's like finding possibilities. Oh, I should describe the bedroom! Oh, I can describe mom! Oh, I'll add the story about her high school teacher and Nancy Drew. At the top of the page I write in big letters: READ A NANCY DREW MYSTERY!!!! WHY DID MOM, EVEN AS A KID, LOVE MYSTERIES? WHAT DID THEY DO FOR HER? WHAT EMPTY PLACE DID THEY FILL? Suddenly I'm not writing an essay, I'm living a story -- I'm off on an adventure of discovery.
One of my students this morning said he writes better when it's just before the deadline. Another student said, "It's hard to quit procrastinating when you get an A for a paper written the night before it was due." I've gotten those A's, too. Even so, I can't write my mom-and-mystery novel story without first writing a draft that makes me aware of all I don't know.
I continue to think that almost any piece of writing can be better. As I often say to my students, The most exciting thing -- and the most frustrating thing -- about writing is that it can always be better.