Revising: Real World Writers
My whole writing process is not writing at all. It's revising. I'm revising before I even finish the sentence. I do so much changing.
As we write, whether we're artists or actors or newspaper people publishers, we're always looking for response to say yes, I'm on the right path. Or, our vision needs to be strong enough so that, as it gains momentum, and other people come in, that revision only makes it greater.
Kim Stanley Robinson
It used to be that I'd be working on first draft for an entire year, and spend an entire year of my life thinking this is terrible, I'm a terrible writer and I've lost whenever gift I have, whatever that means, and I'm in big trouble. So I used to spend a lot of time thinking I was in big trouble. And now what I realized is that bad work at the beginning is just the necessary pre-condition to doing good work later on.
I don't believe any writing is going to be good if it's just done in first draft. I think first draft is something that we do, as some writers have said, just to see if we have something that's worth going on with. Just the first draft to see if we have something worthwhile. If it is worthwhile, I think we do a second draft. In which case we take the junk out that doesn't belong there and we add things that we didn't get in the first draft, and that's second draft, at least for me. Then the third draft we have an opportunity finally to polish. And if we're lucky and the muses are with us, maybe we don't have to go beyond third draft. But sometimes it might be twenty drafts before everything is functioning organically.
I think you can tell a newer writer from the writers that have been here longer is that you are much more willing to cut. And the thing is, even if it's a great joke, you know that you're writing 3 more sketches the next week so just put it in something else. The thing is, it's like, even though the cake is really good—4 pieces is gonna make you sick. So just eat one. And it's the same thing with—you know, however genius the joke is or however profound the thought is, one is gonna be better than six, every time.
No matter what form you're working in, when you start doing it, you're afraid to revise. And it makes you afraid to write. If you're afraid to revise, you're afraid to write. You know, I think that's true of any kind of writing. And in commercial writing, you're revising all the way to the very end of the process. You know, I mean, one of the things that really happens here and it happens in all kinds of writing is things don't work. You know, you shoot a bunch of film, you cut it together the way you planned, it doesn't work. And you've got to be able to not, sometimes, not just rewrite a line or two, but to step back and go, we have to make sense of something that doesn't make any sense. And we can't continue going down the one or two roads that we were going down before to make that sense. We have to step way back. We have to write, like a whole new voice on top of this thing. We have to, you know, we have to start with the thing that we thought was the end.
I revise as I write, seamlessly, with the act of conception. I can't talk about drafts, they don't exist for me, there's just reams and reams of paper that are being worked over constantly. My writing day will often start with simply re-reading vast numbers of pages that proceed the moment at which I have arrived and then I'll add a page and then read more. I probably spend 90% of my time re-reading what I've already written and revising it as I go with a pencil. On any given day maybe 10% of my time is devoted to adding something new and the rest of it is devoted to reconsidering what I've already done. So revision for me is part and parcel of the everyday act of writing, indistinguishable from the act of conception.