22 November 2005

The "R" word

The "r" word I'm thinking of is "revision." This was always my least favorite part of writing assignments in school. It may still be, though I certainly see more value in it now.

It was Joel Achenbach's blog at the Washington Post from 11-20 that got me thinking about this. As Achenbach said, "The only good thing you can say about the Unwritten is that it's not nearly as big a problem as the Already Wrote. Because the Already Wrote is usually terrible. As a professional writer I spend far less time dealing with the Unwritten than I do with the Already Wrote. The Unwritten at least has the potential, in theory, hypothetically, in an ideal universe, to be great; the Already Wrote hasn't a chance."

Achenbach is right. Every unwritten thing rolling around in my head has the chance to be the piece that will win a Pulitzer or for my fiction projects, to be the great novel that will get as much acclaim/following as J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown or Stephen King.

One paper, though, I see how much better it could have been... if only. If only I'd tightened up my lede or nut graf or crafted better dialogue or heightened the plot tension or wasn't so obscure with some kind of symbolism.

People who aren't writers -- well, and writers too, because I forget this enough times myself -- forget that writing isn't really an art. It's a craft, a trade, a job. Where some people can do wiring or welding with the appropriate tools for that job, writers have to sling around the words in the English language to try and and express an idea, or evoke an emotion or explain a process. And sometimes those words get flung around in a way that's artful and significant the first time, but most of the time writers probably struggle just as much as that electrician, who can't figure out why the lights won't turn on even though all the wires seem to be going to right places.

So the electrician tries again and rewires everything. And so writers try again and revise. It's the only way to possibly save the Already Wrote.

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