Revision: The Gift that Keeps on Giving (me sleepless nights)

Posted by Connor Keihl, GD Creative Non-Fiction Editor for 7.1

Last semester, Spring 2018, I took a fiction workshop with Professor Kristen Gentry. I was excited to try my hand at fiction. However, this was a particularly interesting workshop because we were told that we’d only be writing one story for the entire semester. Working with one story over the course of fifteen weeks meant dedicating plenty of time to revision.

Neil Gaiman, author of Coraline, defined what he sees as the process of revision: “finish the short story, print it out, then put it in a drawer and write other things. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before. If there are things you aren’t satisfied with as a reader, go in and fix them as a writer: that’s revision.” This is a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many different writers, but often, for students, this process isn’t an option.

For my ENG-302 class, my first draft spanned about sixteen and a half pages. My next draft grew to nineteen pages, then it grew to twenty-one pages, and was eventually labeled as a final draft at twenty-three pages long. With each draft, I found myself anxiously thinking, it just keeps growing. There must be something I can cut. I liked my story, my characters, my made up world, but at times it was smothering me. Except, I didn’t have time to put the story away and write something else, it was my one story for the whole semester. I was stuck with it.

My characters would often follow me into bed, and as I’d lay there trying to find where the peace of sleep had run off to, I’d reluctantly start to revise in my head. Well, Character A needs to die–or does he have to die? What if the reader is just unsure of his fate? How does character B need to react to Character A’s “death”? Then I’d start to craft sentences in my head, full scenes even, that would inevitably be scrubbed from my brain by morning. Then, I’d try to capture some of my hazy, late night thoughts in my next draft.

Revision is essential. For writers, I think revision comes inextricably with the obsession. Writers don’t just care about the subjects found in their writing. They aren’t just passionate, they’re obsessed. And with obsession comes perfectionism, and with perfectionism comes the absolute need for revision. And in revision, if you’re lucky, you might finally find yourself staring at a draft that lets you get some sleep at night.

Check out what other authors have to say about revision!

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