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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Revisions are Killing You (But Some Things Are Worth Dying For)

Unfinished painting of King Arthur, still under revision (Ponce Museum of Art)

As an editor I respect used to say, "We're all very excited."

I am, in particular, incredibly excited about finally releasing bits and pieces of the meta-comic world where characters kill their authors, BUT--

There's a really huge but on this one--

I think they're literally killing me. 

See, this project exists to climax with my 2017 book release, and that means I'm spending this year revising said book, and oh man revisions.

I'm not just talking, like, read over it and rewrite some paragraphs and fix some wordings. I'm talking tear-your-hair-out hardcore revision. Rewrite outlines, rewrite the whole story in short-story-baby-words form (this helps center you on cause and effect), create three new word documents to copy and paste in all the things you like from the original, and then throw one away and try to do it again, with less--less "kill your darlings" and more "kill everything except your darlings"--restart the story in a blank document again, throw that away and do it again, have it beta'd over and over, read that advice, re-read the novel to get its spirit again, write interviews with the main characters, make lists and note of each character's voice and draw the characters out to get their pose and attitude fixed in your mind, and now that I've done all that, today or tomorrow I'm going to get out index cards, write out all the major plot points, and throw them around the floor until I find an order that finally works. 


IF that works, and I finally see a story coming back together, I can move beyond the tearing stage, and start building up again, and then the real work begins, where I'm going to rewrite the entire thing from scratch in a blank document. Then I'll open one of those "darling" documents, and see if there's something from the old book I want to put in--make sure I didn't lose the book's spirit--and finally, I'm going to open that finished document in one window, open a blank document in another window, and rewrite it again as I read it, fixing it for voice and little things. 

It's making me sick and tired and tired and sick. I get psychosomatic pains sometimes--it's just a thing that happens to me--and this process gives me those. When I'm done, I'll stop. Maybe my headache will go away, and my stomach will stop churning.

I share this because I see writers, often, who are unwilling to go back and do the work, in the spirit of "it's okay" rather than "it can be amazing." We have low thresholds for ourselves. If you're a genius, that's okay: I read somewhere that C.S. Lewis literally never reread anything he wrote--just sent it right on to the publisher, who did all the editing--and at this point in my life I'm less and less sure that's true, but alright! Sometimes you've got to know when to let something go. On the other end of the spectrum, you've got J.R.R. Tolkien, whose book almost never went to the publisher because of how long he spent on it. His children say he used to pace the upper floors of his house, muttering and shouting about story problems he couldn't solve. I suspect most of us treat ourselves more like Lewis than Tolkien.

I saw an unfinished painting at the Ponce Art Museum. It's about King Arthur's death. The artist spent his whole life re-doing it. His house became littered with props he built so he could paint them from real life--swords, bowls, clothing--and he sketched and painted hundreds of character studies of each part of the wall-sized painting. Hours before he died, he was on a ladder in his studio, painting details in the corner. 

I would rather be that guy, who puts all his heart and soul and passion into a thing, than any other kind of artist.

But unlike that dude I AM gonna stop, at some point, because I want to put all my heart and soul and passion into life, and life requires breathing in and out, exhaling and inhaling, holding on, and then letting go.

I'm just saying--I don't want to let go too early. Dear God, I hope I don't trip; I'm well aware that some people will hate my stuff and some people will love it and I've got to love it myself first, but man, this takes the life out of me. People ask me, sometimes, what's more difficult, writing or medicine, and I say writing without hesitation. 

Thank God I don't have to do this full-time.


  1. Bravo and amen from someone on version 8 of a project. Cheers.

    1. W00t w00t! Keep that up. What kind of project is it???