Revision and Deadlines

Revision is hard to teach. It’s so easy to read and comment on someone else’s manuscript, but then the writer has to re-enter the work and read it along with me, in the form of my notes, and see my questions. Then they must turn to their own authority, their own sense of story, to answer those questions. It’s also a balancing act between on the one hand, making the book more of what you would have it be, what it could be, its best self, in conversation with readers and yet on the other hand hewing to your original vision. These aren’t two different things, the vision in conversation and the vision as it stood alone, not exactly, or they aren’t contradictory, usually, but they can seem hard to reconcile. Okay, they are two different things. The idea or thought vs. the idea spoken aloud. The read manuscript opens a conversation with the reader—all books do—and when the reader responds, the writer must decide if that was the response s/he sought.

Then there’s the question of making it better rather than worse when you change it, and of how much to give up of your original vision in favor of what the thing is becoming or could become.

Here, as always, goals and deadlines help. The aim is not perfectionism bit the next pass. The aim is not one singularly possible ideal form, but a stranger, better draft that works. The aim is completion, a version you can hand off again, a whole you can put forth.

When I next teach my Book Launch: Revision course, I’m going to put that final deadline in. The last pass and hand-off.  E.M. Forster and Leonardo da Vinci are variously credited with some version of the marvelous quote, “A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.” Sometimes that abandonment requires a set date and a plan for releasing it into the hands of the world.

A Note on Practice

The owner of the studio where I take my Pilates Barre class came in to take the class with us yesterday. She had a baby a couple of months ago, and her body is re-forming back to itself. It reminded me of last week’s blog about the necessity of remaining a student. Ballet dancers take hours of class, even—perhaps especially—the professionals. Artists gather with a model, and all the better if some mentor wanders the space, holding a pencil up horizontally to measure the distance, the perspective . . . Musicians practice for hours, daily. Here again, the more professional they are, the more time they’ll spend maintaining and improving their skill set. How long do you have to practice every day? Until you want to. And so we must write, and read, and gather to discuss and write and read each other’s efforts. Cultivate the habit, maintain the skills, build the muscles, strengthen the ear.

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