1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you write.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put the work on the market.
5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.
— Robert Heinlein
“First thought, best thought,” Allen Ginsburg
“First I get all the words out, then I push them around a little.” — Evelyn Waugh
I’m more on the Evelyn Waugh side of things, I guess. Revision is more than just a step in my process; it is my process. When I was working on my novel, I would type a page, pull it out of the typewriter (yes! the typewriter! fuck you!) and then re-type it, changing little details here and there. Then again. Then again. Then again. One page grew into two. Two grew into three. Every day, I started by re-typing the page I’d left off writing the day before. Sometimes I’d go back four, five, six pages, and retype all those, over and over. The changed details, the little bit here and there, by process of accretion, became the novel. I wouldn’t have known where to begin, otherwise. That novel was never written. It was only re-written.
Maybe that is what is wrong with my novel, though. There’s a dangerous tension to a sentence or a paragraph that has been revised too often. It gets too tightly wound and too tightly packed. It becomes too too, you know? Polish and elegance, complexity and cleverness, etcetera and etcetera, can create the impression that words mean more than they seem to mean. Even when they don’t. Maybe especially when they don’t. Overly-revised passages can feel tricky, show-offy, splashy, insecure. They maybe feel deceitful, even, like a mobster’s practiced and perfected testimony before the court. Like this paragraph, for example.
I’m writing again, and not just blog posts (not to say that blog posts are inferior to whatever else it is I’m writing, I should add). At the age of forty-four, I finally have the job I wanted when I was ten: I write comics for a living. I’m also pretending to work on a novel on the weekends, but mostly that just means jotting down random and contradictory “notes” about the characters (which sounds lame until I remind myself of Kurt Vonnegut drawing colored lines on toilet paper while he was trying to structure Slaughterhouse-5, and I guess that it’s okay, what I’m doing, this constant noodling and doodling).
I had forgotten how hard it is, to write. I had forgotten how much I love it. But I’m not sure I’ve got it right, yet. I’m not sure if I know what I’m doing. And, mostly, I’m not sure how much I should be re-writing. It seems like I should be re-writing a lot. But then it seems like I shouldn’t. Maybe I just throw it all out there, incomplete, incomprehensible, and confused as it may or may not be, and see what happens? Like this paragraph, for example.
I don’t know. You tell me.