Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Decisions and revisions

Last night, I did something that I had been putting off for months. I highlighted a huge chunk of text, thousands of words, and hit "delete," finally admitting to myself that what I was doing was not actually revising the draft of the novel, but rewriting it.

One would have thought that I might have admitted this sooner. I mean, I changed an entire relationship, added a mythos, and completely upended the treatment of a character. I already have 10K more words in this unfinished draft than I did in the previous, "finished" version. Still, for whatever reason, part of me was insistent that all I was doing was revising.

Revision is what I am doing on the latest dissertation chapter, on Julian of Norwich, for those of you playing along at home. Revision is rearranging bits of what already exists in a manner that makes better sense, and adding the connective tissue that was obvious only to me the first time. Most of the work is already done.

Rewriting means admitting that I got things wrong the first time. That even though I wrote as well as I could, they weren't the right words. (A dear friend of mine, who often uses the words of Julian of Norwich and reassures me that "all manner of thing shall be well" when I complain to him about my writing, says that realizing that you've done it wrong the first time is one of the best bits of being a writer, because then you get to fix it.) I don't know about "best." 

But the quote is "Sinne is behovely, but alle shalle be wele, and alle shalle be wele, and all maner of thinge shalle be wel." The error is necessary, and then things will be well. I believe that to be true, in life, as well as writing. Or rewriting, as the case may be.


  1. I like that quote.

    Rewriting is hard, but also good because it's such a delicious pleasure to get closer to what the story should be in your head... Still quite a lot of heavy lifting though (and torturous deleting), so I send you thoughts of excellent music and tea.


  2. Julian is kind of amazing. She's the one medieval writer that I push on non-medievalists, and even non-religious people, as her writing is so extraordinarily beautiful. The popular spirituality crowd picked her up, too, so it's pretty easy to find editions of her work, at least in modern translation.

    And thanks for the good thoughts.

  3. Rewriting is heartbreaking. But there's something cheerful about having gotten it all wrong once, and now you get to go back and do it properly this time.