Writers tend to feel passionately about every aspect of the creative process, and revision is no exception. In a previous post, I talked about revising in terms of Heinlein’s rule. I believe Heinlein is a bit of an outlier with his opinion that writers should eschew revision entirely. Of course it worked for him and I’m really not interested in arguing pro or con on topics of process. Every person who works to create anything has to find their own best way. So, this post isn’t so much about the revision process as it is about what the revision process means to me.
When the first spark of a new story appears in my brain, it’s a brilliant, living thing. It isn’t complete, but the elements that are there, the emotion or the setting or a character are vivid and real. I can see that the complete story is going to be fantastic. This nascent story promises all kinds of epiphanies and satisfactions. That’s the nature of any idea good enough to inspire me to sit down and try to get it onto the page. The thing about an idea is that it’s also fragile, ephemeral, and most importantly, not real yet.
Here’s the problem: Transferring that idea out of my head and onto the page kills it. Dead, and not etherized like a butterfly to be pinned to a display and admired for its inert beauty. Putting that idea down on paper butchers my idea, mutilates it. Whenever I read over my first draft I always feel like I’ve been left alone in a room with a corpse. The corpse of my beautiful idea.
This, for me, is one of the hardest part of writing. I wandered in the wilderness for a long time not realizing that this is how it actually works. That I didn’t somehow screw up. Over time, Dr. Frankenstein and his monster have become my driving metaphor for the revision process. As I revise, rewrite and adjust story elements I’m assembling and stitching together the corpse as I progress I find the spark that vivifies the story. Frankenstein’s monster will never look like a natural human being, and the story I end up with bears only the dimmest reflection of the idea that lived in my mind. Yet, the story here among us in the real world.
To extended the metaphor, like Dr. Frankenstein after I’ve brought this story to to life, I will abandon it to the world (where it may even be misunderstood).
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