The Writing Process II, Part 5: The Gift of Time in Revision

If this one isn’t short and sweet, hopefully it’ll be short and sensible. I didn’t touch on this point in the first series for its plain truth, but it’s a common experience of writers that might be nice to talk about. Before publishing anything, take the good that time offers and – where at all possible – step away from your work.

Stephen King says, “With six weeks’ worth of recuperation time, you’ll be able to see any glaring holes in the plot or character development…Your mind and imagination…have to recycle themselves.” (On Writing) But he doesn’t get into why the brain welcomes this respite in the first place.

PocketWatch2Without it, we’re too deeply IN IT. It’s the reason we’re convinced we’re in the right, glued to our own voice in an argument. No objectivity.

Mario has said, “Even though I wrote it, it is too close sometimes, OK all the time. And readers’ response tells me how I am coming across.” Kevin told the Grammar Mafia, “I do edit most of my posts. For grammar. For spelling. And then, I’ll reread the post months later and wonder how could I have said “that” so poorly. Run-ons and convoluted phrasing mostly, but not exclusively.”

That’s all of us. The distance of time, even an hour, can lend legibility to the written thought as it renews the reader and quiets the talker in us.

The Holistic Editor offers a word on healthful writing: we require balance in all areas. Writaholics of all people benefit from activity that redistributes blood and energy from the brain to the rest of our anatomy. We are physically more than the thoughts we hear and devote desk hours to, and need to nourish all the organs with the balance of movement. Enjoy some fresh air, tackle the dishes, pump those limbs, sing, dance, sleep. And return with a fresh eye to the words you were eager to print. They’ll be even better. Clearer.

52 thoughts on “The Writing Process II, Part 5: The Gift of Time in Revision

  1. My initial response is that the reason we may need to push our work through without this incubation period is that most of us respond to timely events; we are the journalists of our hearts and minds. A writer is about the present consensus, we contextualize in the context of what has been going on. An argument or reference can be out of place in the space of an evening. We want to share the information while it is real for us. I like to be in the moment. I usually forget within 24-hours what the stream of consciousness was saying.

    I have to argue that while it is true that one should rejuvenate by going into fresh air, do the dishes, pump those limbs, etc., most of us have regular jobs and those jobs take most of our time and energy, practically killing our spirits, and cast a wide net over future hope, and so we have to wake up in the morning and grasp our first thoughts and ride them. They become a piece or a chapter. We type them up. We edit them before we do anything else and that speaks of hours taken and it affects our ability to perform the practical tasks. We become too divided in our lives given our honed focus as writers and lovers of the craft to also participate in “reality.”

    I think the way we rejuvenate is by reading. Brilliantly crafted philosophical works, like History of Madness by Michel Foucault do the trick for me because they are beyond my capacity, they teach me, they reconfigure my mind. Or someone else’s work, less monumental, less exhausting and requiring of concentration, sets me on my way, because they are manageable as fun, little diversions.

    • Some points well taken, but this may be a Men-Mars, Women-Venus thing. Men tend to be more “in the moment.” I may have just opened Pandora’s Box. Okay, then enough to say plenty of people of either gender are. “An argument or reference can be out of place in the space of an evening. We want to share the information while it is real for us.” An argument is not a letter. It’s an oral exchange. The very medium of snatching words out of the moment onto paper (real or digital) allows us to revisit the original experience; THIS ready transport is in large what makes writing good.

      Well, if you’re in a hurry to memorialize your thoughts before clocking in for a day that will be killing your spirit, I can’t say much. King insists that we divert ourself from the writing we are tempted to share with the world with a different writing project or a chore or activity ((in your case, the wonderful reading) — anything — that will, essentially, wipe out our beloved piece from our mind. When we can return to it almost as a virgin reader (my paraphrase) is when we’re ready. He quotes someone who urged that we slay our darlings; the technique, verbiage, style, whatever it is we love to employ that only an objective reader will see does not work in that particular piece. We will refuse to slay, let alone see, those hurtful pet delights, until we revisit our work with new eyes. And remember, I read this months after wanting to do this post.

      • 1. Yes, both genders are capable of being in the moment.
        2. An argument is also written; take what we are doing, for example: “A composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.” (See: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/argument)
        3. What is killing our spirit are the regular jobs: “Most of us have regular jobs and those jobs take most of our time and energy, practically killing our spirits.”
        4. I am not interested in wiping out but in creating a beloved piece because I am also interested in analyses, thinking about things other than my creative epiphanies.
        5. Sure, we need to enslave these technical aspects but a writer telling the truth, listening to the muse, is in effect removing technical, verbiage, style… The muse provides objective statements, since they are a stream of consciousness that does not have to be tainted by the writer.
        6. Walking and taking that first thought, for example, omits the planning, but rather addresses the pending thought clearly present, primordial.

      • 6. That’s fine. Even good. I like promordial. But there’s something called presentation, which does not have to detract from the essence you are zealous to preserve. And art is not only the lovely things we birth and the moment you capture but the way we express them JUST SO. All I was saying is that the space (from the thoughts we are so favorably biased toward) that we allow ourselves just before sharing with the world can and often does help us see better if the reader will understand what we were expressing. It is as much for the sake of the reader (clear the clutter, pave their way, though I speak here of things beyond grammar) as for the writer that I wrote this.

        2. As to the argument, the point is becAUSE this one’s in print, we can trace back to it.

      • Savioni, I find CC Cairn’s comment – the most recent one here – a meaningful response to yours, though it wasn’t meant as such. “A fresh stream of consciousness.” Your take? And I meant to add earlier that I appreciated your dissenting view. Very interesting.

  2. I wonder, Diana, if I am wrong to think of a blog as being more like a writer’s notebook? I know in your post you were talking about writing generally. And, I agree, 20/20 hindsight comes from walking away from our work, before coming back to it with fresh ideas and eyes. However, with the poems I post to my blog, I sometimes think of them as sketches, to be “inked in” at a later time. What are your thoughts specifically about this approach to blog writing?

    • First off, your first line is interesting given my theme (template) of a notebook. =) I have mused in my milestone posts (I think at 100, then 200 follows) on the difference between blogging personal reflections and stories which I have, esp in the earlier posts, and private journaling. There’s a reason we’re here and not keeping our thoughts and creations to a diary. So I do think there’s some measure of standard to uphold in the writing. But you’re not the only blogger to approach your online writing that way and hey, to each his own. While speaking with conviction, I have tried not to insist on anything here (that one post was by the Mafia, remember? I was buried in a book when she took over). It pleases me to hold out the/a standard we can reach for — the rest is what the reader does with it depending on his story, as with any piece of writing. I appreciate your time and faithful support. =)

      • You definitely have my support, as I hope I do yours! And, yes, we are all here for a reason. Personally, I wish to grow as a writer, which obviously explains my interest in your site. Also, instantaneous feedback on what I write is another appeal of the wider blogging experience, for me. That said, without a doubt, we should all try and achieve our best, and I certainly value your efforts at making us mindful of what constitutes good writing. 🙂

      • I appreciate that this is not a forum for unfinished work or a least work that has been as honed as much as possible by the writer, for many of us are alone until we speak out. But, it would be cliquish to put those demands on others. For what a writer brings, unfinished or complete, has its effect. I, for example, will get up on a poem someone has written and deconstruct it. It becomes an exercise and at times I rewrite it. E. M. Gombrich said of art that it is a story, which is continued by other artists. It keeps growing, moving along. So, if an unfinished work is posted, I might try to finish it or make it known that it is unfinished, has flaws, or maybe this is saying something about me. Who am I? What am I learning? What am I doing? There are no rules except the rules of truth and truth is what we feel. And all parties should accept truth and at least for me, I have to acknowledge truth much more often. I roll around with it in the dirt but I should simply admit when I am wrong.

      • “that this is not a forum for unfinished work or a least work that has been as honed as much as possible by the writer”
        These seem to be two contradictions.

        I feel like you took what is the least profound suggestion I have made on this blog and ran with it unnecessarily – all over the country. I am almost confused because I never spoke of a finished product. Not once of perfection. The only demands ever made on this board were the Grammar Mafia’s — and she was addressing those perfectly capable of raising their bar but who choose to roll in complacency. As for this post, the artlessly simple tip aims to serve any who would want to post his, her best on the particular thoughts s/he is about to publish. At WHATEVER STAGE those thoughts may be. I cannot and do not dictate content and how finished it is. I can only encourage writers to push themselves to their best. If the distance of time does not suit you, it doesn’t.

      • “I appreciate that this is not a forum for unfinished work or a least work that has been as honed as much as possible by the writer, for many of us are alone until we speak out.”

        You say there are two contradictions embedded within the above.

        A. This is not a forum for unfinished work; or
        B. Work that has been as honed as much as possible.

        Why are they contradictions?

        The forum for unfinished work is one thing and work that has been honed as much as possible is another. Unfinished work is work that for one reason or another is unfinished to the writer and/or unfinished to another/others. A work that has been honed as much as possible is a work that the writer has worked on as much as possible, within reason and cannot see what might be wrong or no longer feels it is within his/her comfort level of trying to see or simply letting it go.

        But, then I may not be getting your point. I have acknowledged limitations. I often cannot see the forest for the trees. Lyn Hejinian said it best: “We are not forgetting the patience of the mad, their love of detail.” (From: My Life and My Life in the Nineties.)

        I often am not concerned with a hierarchy of suggestions. I pick and choose according to my desire, what are closest to my heart. An instructor once alluded to things we hate and love in art as lifting off points. Why bother with lukewarm events? I like to get my teeth into something that is wild, not tame. I think you are the same.

        You may not have spoken of the finished product but that is what I garnered from such statements as this: “Before publishing anything, take the good that time offers and – where at all possible – step away from your work.”

        You see I have this problem. From the very first word of something, I have this plethora of thoughts, responses and that is my art, to capture them before they fly. It is wrong of me not to let the impressions rest and incubate so that the unimportant ones flit away, where they were unimportant against the whole, but “We are not forgetting the patience of the mad, their love of detail.”

        I don’t want to step away from my work. I love this combing. I love this in-the-moment story-telling while the newsmakers are making news.

        How can we ever be perfect if we do not get this close?

        Here, you do allude to a bar by which to judge those who are perfectly capable of raising their bar and those who choose to roll in complacency:

        I understand your admonishments that writers push themselves. Apparently, time is not at issue. I think I have Asperger’s.

        You interest me because you are using words and we are writers. We are talking to each other or at least I may be talking at you. You cannot control what I do with your words, but I am enjoying them, like I might a great book. Last night for example, I received the Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman and I remembered his prose style from the time I read his first chapter in Granta. He was the first writer I had read who experimented with narration, where he was the psychologist of the woman, whose child had been kidnapped, as well as the psychologist of the man who kidnapped the child. He was the lover, or so I remember of the woman, whose child had been kidnapped, and the psychologist of the woman’s new husband because the kidnapper had once dated her. There’s the prostitute telling her story to the narrator and she is dating the man, who kidnapped the child, and like seven people so “I” becomes “we” becomes “they.” His style is so spare it is haunting but delicious. I should be outside, but who would want to talk to me in this way?

        I read to my mother at Starbucks but I try to move us so far away from other people that they cannot hear me. She responds to it. She’ll actually start talking about her past and we’ll engage in this dialog of two different subjects, parallel universes, because we are giant egos unable to truly listen to each other because we have so much to say.

      • People publish at different levels of “product.” Enough bloggers have established that their posts are works in progress, which is fine. That is their blogging goal and approach. I was simply (and simply, for once, is the word) pointing out that no matter how polished or not one’s work is, it would help to take advantage of the TIME that benefits (obviously not all) people, that can help iron out thoughts a bit more clearly so they’re more coherent.

      • Yes, people publish different levels of product and what is funny is that we often don’t know at what level we are. I certainly do not. I just write because it seems to be so close to who I am. I want to say so much. I understand the need for time, I sell wine for gosh sakes. I’ve always known your point, yes time, the time to heal, the time to reflect on what you might have said. I certainly did not check the last time I responded here. The treasure is contact, friendship, sharing, and I always like what you say even though you may imply that I am flooding you, which of course is the case. At a point, I will have nothing to give, because I would have taken “Advantage of the TIME that benefits (obviously all) people, that can help iron out thoughts a bit more clearly so they’re more coherent.” 🙂

  3. I am not arguing with you about presentation. I am jealous of your discipline and education. No, nothing has to detract from the essence of what one is zealous to preserve, but there is this thing called bottleneck in concentration one might want project onto his creation.
    Art is the only lovely thing we wish to give birth and the way we give birth has to be just so? I don’t have that kind of complex mind. I just spew. I am not a complicated man. I don’t have this kind of depth you speak of and so I cannot relate. I just try to sweep up all the facts in the moment that are spilling out onto the floor. I am not a novelist, I am a photographer.
    I agree with you. Yes, TIME is of the essence, both by your point and mine. I am running with a knife in my hand and you keep telling me to put it down.
    Yes, it’s all in print, like a psychological profile, which perhaps is the point of my writing. It’s all like free association, which should have some relevance to current culture? As NSA has proven, “We can trace back to it; it’s all there.”

  4. I’m thrilled that schools are finally getting the message that students need not be perfect the first time with their writing. They are now expected to write-edit-revise as part of the process. Much better.

  5. This is great. I really, really appreciated this post – & even your commenters were interesting. I ALWAYS leave time between writing something & posting it. I need to step away first.

  6. Thank you for this thought provoking post…you are a brave woman!
    I love writing and it is an absolute necessity for me to walk way way way away when writing in prose…poetry being an easier form of expression for me… and it still is necessary to walk away and live life a little…then come back and see where my thoughts have run away from me in a jumble of expression.
    I find individual thought isn’t necessarily conversational or linear. Often it is pure insight. I see the forest well before I can identify the trees. So this waiting and self editing is an organizational necessity.
    Wonderful post….!

    • You’re amazing. Thanks so much for your time and all the support. Indeed your love of writing is evident. I feel honored you’ve chosen to walk with me. I look fwd to spending more time with your words. Love, Diana

  7. Thanks once again for ‘following’ my poem, A History of Feeling…’ Yes, it is an imperative part of the creative process to leave the work to mature—like the whisky and the wine. And this has been an attitude which remains among the writing fraternity since the time of Seneca, the Younger.

    I guess this is why I took ten years to finish my own poem, refered to above. It is also part of the development process, each time one comes back to the desk; a fresh eye should produce a fresh stream of consciousness—and by natural extension—better art.

    I liked the poem which bares to the bone the dichotomy facing you—both mother, wife, (perhaps sister and daughter too) and the ‘hunger artist’. It contextualises that terrible anxiety one feels when the desire to write, to create, to express, is at its strongest—and colliding with familial and social responsibility.

    Cheers

      • My pleasure. I don’t know what happen there but I was in the process of replying to you and it disappeared off the screen. Anyway, I was just saying that it is good to communicate with talented writers on here and it is rather surprising that the mainstream publishers have not yet realised collectively that there is a wealth of real artists practising their skills on such platforms as WordPress. It can only be a matter of time!

  8. The content in the post is oh so true. I am presently editing my novel, The Custodian, eight weeks after finishing it. It’s amazing what I am finding. I have added several new pages already and deleted badly constructed sentences with equal vigour.
    Good post!!

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