“Revision is not cleaning up after the party; revision is the party.”
- Billy Collins
There’s something about the word “revision” that reminds you of high school or college, term papers and grades, tedium and boredom. Over the years, I’ve changed my feelings about the revision process, have come to see writing as revision. The early stages, the first drafts, are raw material. It’s not until you revise that you begin the process of shaping and discovering, of finding out what you have to say. I look forward to revision now, excited to see what will happen.
In graduate school, I sat in on a workshop with the poet Marie Howe. She read a poem to us she had written and afterwards she handed out copies of all the stages of this poem. There were pages and pages of revisions, all for the same poem. She documented her revision process for us, explaining it sometimes takes thirty tries just to get one poem right. Prose writers claim the same thing. John Irving has said half of his life is spent revising.
I once read that revision is a “re-visioning,” a re-looking at things. I like this interpretation best. For it’s in this new way of looking at things that the writing is pushed to greater depths. It’s as if you are polishing a stone, bringing truth and beauty to the surface.