This week, many of us have been prompted to revise an old poem and post the results of that exercise. I thought it might be appropriate to talk about some of the aspects of doing revision work.
I don’t particularly like revising my stuff, be it poetry or prose. But, I also know that many of the books I’ve read, teachers I’ve had, and several really good authors, all state that the real writing process is to be found in the task of revision. And that has become the real reason I do it. Someone said, this past week, that she’d rather be writing a new poem than revising an old one.
I agreed with her. Until I stopped and realized that rewriting, re-seeing, revisiting an old poem, is really creating a new one. It’s a phoenix rising from another, different fire of creativity. And, it certainly can’t be denied, that there is a great deal to be learned in doing the work.
Things change, and our perspectives change, on a daily basis. Going back and taking a look at an old piece, with new eyes and new experience to inform us, is like giving ourselves a second chance to do it better, or at least differently. The changes may seem minor: a word or two, a line break, a phrase that didn’t occur in that first writing, but they can and often do make a world of difference.
I work hard at what I put up on my blogs, and am sure that each of you do the same. I check and recheck several times before I finally push that publish button. And each time I go through that checking process, I am more than likely to do some sort of tweaking. And yet, I look at all those pieces of writing as drafts. Final drafts in that current moment.
The only exception to that experience is a daily writing exercise. Whether it is poetry or prose, doing a daily write seems to encourage an almost stream of consciousness type of ramble. Due to the time constraints of coming up with something new each day, I see those pieces as rough drafts only. I still check them over, tweaking them here and there, but not with the fine tooth comb of my other writings.
I chose to do my revision, this past week, on a poem I originally wrote for a poem a day challenge. After the challenge, I went back and reworked all of those thirty pieces. Spent a great deal of time, effort, and energy on all of them. Found new poems, some echoes of the originals, but brand new avenues to explore.
Yet, when I went back and took a look at the original piece, and the reworked result, I found a very different and new poem in what I had previously cut out. I also went into the exercise with lots of “I don’t really want to do this,” attitude. Only to discover that enough time had passed for me to truly re-see what was actually there. Wonderfully nice surprise.
That might constitute a very real factor in all of this. The element of time passing, time that allows our thoughts and eyes to be freshened with new ideas and altered perspectives. I once held on to a poem for ten years. Periodically going back and trying to find a way to make it work to my liking. Then, one night, while working with another poet, showed it to him. And as he read it, immediately knew exactly what to do with it. I’d never been able to come up with a title for the thing, and didn’t realize, until he read it aloud, that the problem was in how I had placed the stanzas on the page. It was as if, letting him see it, finally allowed me to really see it as well. The poem was accepted for publication only two months later.
On the other hand, I’ve read bloggers who say with ease, that they never go back and rework what they have written. It goes on the page, it stays there. And some of those pieces were, what I considered, fairly good writing.
So, where do you stand, or sit, on the issue of revisiting old work and perhaps reviving it, or sometimes, just getting a new idea about the same subject matter? I often go back and read stuff I wrote, in years past, looking for new perspectives. That’s another point in favor of revision work.
I often told my students to just write, get it down on the page. Editing is another process. But, revision may very well be the half-way house between those two activities. And although I am often reluctant to do it, it is a backbone within the writing process that holds much to be sought after, as well as learned from.
The podium is open, lol.