By Cassandra Rose Clarke, Associate Director of Writespace
As a writer, I hate revising my work. The joy of writing for me has always been tied to drafting my stories, sitting down at a computer and pulling new characters and worlds out of my imagination. I love the organic tangle of artistic creation. There's something magical about it.
Revising, on the other hand, is tedious and frustrating. The magic becomes mundane. That organic tangle? It's actually a disorganized mess, and now I'm tasked with seeing all of its flaws head on without having one idea how to fix them. I make lists, I reread my work, force myself to type up some new scenes. It's hard.
But something has made the revision process easier for me--at least a little. Two years ago, I began offering editing consultations services with Writespace. As much as I hate revising my own work, helping someone revise their work is a whole different beast. Where I see unfixable flaws in my own stories, in others' writing I see potential. A few tweaked sentences, a reworked scene, and instantly there's the frisson of reading something exciting and new. It's revision, but of a novel or story I'm reading for the first time. It's revision, but with characters, worlds, and ideas that I would never have dreamed up myself. In short, it's writing, but collaborative.
It's a cliche at this point to talk about how writing is solitary, but in many ways that cliche isn't even true. Yes, drafting is solitary, but once a piece of writing begins edging its way toward publication, a lot more people are involved. After all, what is reading but an imaginative collaboration between reader and writer? And I think that's why I find my work as an editor so rewarding. That collaboration becomes an actual conversation, held over ice coffee at a local Starbucks, printed manuscript pages spread across the tiny, rickety table. I tell a client what I'm seeing in their work, they tell me what they intended, and we work together to reconcile these two different visions into a work the writer can call their own.
Working as an editor has forced me to re-examine my own revision process. Drafting is all about me, but publication isn't, and revision is nothing more than getting a work ready for publication. Should I drop that Stephen King insight in here about drafting with the door closed, but revising with it open? He actually learned that from working with--surprise, surprise!--an editor. And working as an editor has helped me to fully understand what he meant by it. Drafting is a brain dump, all those swirls of ideas in your head that make no sense to anyone but you. Revision is how you make that brain dump shareable. It's how you make writing not so solitary after all.