The Mark Blog

Like–No, Love

One of the many, many things I love about writing is revision. In real life, off the page, I often struggle to discern how I truly feel and what I’m actually trying to say. I’ve been known to mess up a punch line, fumble a story told aloud or, worst of all, say things I don’t actually mean—which we all know doesn’t work out well for anybody.

On the other hand, in the process of writing, I have the time and space to fine-tune my thoughts. Unlike real world interactions, I can seek the most honest, apt word. I can consider the connotations and nuances of a statement. I can think about tone and intention. And I can exchange and arrange words. With enough work, I get to discover and impart precisely that which I’m trying to say.

For me, there is something indefinably thrilling about refining a big, messy muddle of thoughts, which is what it usually feels like in my head, into something comprehensible. I think it will never cease to amaze me how changing even so little as a single word can drastically alter the meaning and feel of a piece. And I like—no, I love—when my intention and the outcome align. That, to me, is why revision is one of the best parts of writing.

I’ve been thinking about revision a lot, especially in the past couple of weeks, because our Mid-Project Review packets were due on Friday. The packet comprises our present manuscript in its entirety—all revisions, all new chapters/stories, and the other portions that still need to be reconsidered— as well as a working outline, a revised synopsis and logline, and a list of ten specific goals that we believe will allow us to complete our works-in-progress.

For me, this round of revision has entailed a lot of rewriting. Rather than tinkering with a sentence or trimming a word, I’ve often started with a fresh blank page. Many writers will tell you that a blank page can be both terrifying and exhilarating. In a targeted revision—when I have a sense of what was working, and not working, in the original draft—a blank page can also be really fun. I hold the lessons learned from the first go, I already mostly know what happens, and I get to try again at illustrating it in the best way possible.

There is still much work to be done. But I’m excited. Revision is work, but it’s also pleasure. It is a privilege to be able to crystallize, for myself and on the page, that which I yearn to express.

Here are a few authors on the art, toil, and joy of revision:

“Talent is long patience, and originality an effort of will and of intense observation.” —Gustave Flaubert

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” —John Updike

Paris Review Interviewer: What was it that had stumped you? Ernest Hemingway: Getting the words right.

“The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides right through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” –Maya Angelou

“I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.” —Vladimir Nabokov

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – wholeheartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” —Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch

“…Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings…” —Stephen King

“The real work comes later, after I've done three or four drafts of the story. It's the same with the poems, only the poems may go through forty or fifty drafts.” —Raymond Carver

“There should be a point where you say, the way you would with a child, this isn’t mine anymore.” —Alice Munro

“Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.” —Roald Dahl