Reviseophobia

The most unhelpful thought I ever had in writing was this one: If I get everything really perfect the first time, I won’t have to revise.

It seemed like a very efficient way to write. One and done. I would only have to work up the nerve once to actually write the thing, and then tinker a little and BOOM!

And it was a hard thought to let go of, because I am lazy, and find it hard to sit down to actually write, and so if I only had to do it once, well… Plus, and not blowing smoke up my own ass or anything, my first drafts were usually pretty good. Probably because I wasn’t prepared to try anything too messy lest I have to revise, but it was always close enough to reasonably okay that it seemed like getting something near perfect the first time was an achievable goal.

Except it wasn’t.

But I didn’t realize that for a long time, and so every time I had to revise, I’d make teeny-tiny changes. A word here and there. Stuff so small that I wouldn’t even remember what I’d changed from draft to draft, but somehow I thought it would have a dramatic effect. It never did.

I’m more comfortable with revision now–I’ve written enough things that I’ve had to rip apart before I could find the bleeding heart of the story–but I must confess that every time I realize that I need another revision, there’s a small sense of “Ugh.” It’s the work of it all. The going back to the well and hoping it’s not dry. The not knowing if this is the revision that takes a reasonably okay story and turns it into a pile of crap.

It feels like I should wrap up this blog post with some sort of an uplifting “Yay, revision!” except I am in the middle of my latest novel revision, and what can I say except that it’s exhausting to keep trying to find the thing that will make the next chapter, the next scene, the next sentence work. It just is. I got excited by some of the ideas I had to make this revision happen, but the moment I had to actually revise…. well, it’s just a lot of thinking and figuring and wondering if I’m really, really sure that the novel wasn’t just fine.

On the other hand, there is no possible way that I could have come up with all of this on the first draft. Or the second. Or the third. And so on. Had I let the reviseophobia get the better of me, well, I’d be sitting with my very first draft of this thing, the one that I sat down and read and marked up with notes calling whole sections “Cheeseballs.”

The most helpful writing advice I ever had was “Learn to love revision.” I’m not quite there yet, but I’m trying.

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Publish your damn work

I teach writers, I teach with writers, I workshop with writers, I have writer friends…. two things stand out. 1) Most of these writers are women. 2) Most of these writers don’t submit their writing very much.

If the latter doesn’t apply to you, and you are a regular ol’ white guy, stop reading.

It’s pretty much indisputable that there is a gender imbalance in publishing, and yet writing classes are so often filled with women. Why?

I’m going to skip the obvious argument of d’uh, of course we can’t be balanced because da womens don’t submit enough! but you can read up on why that’s not the whole story on VIDA. The deck is stacked. It sucks. None of us can wave a magic wand and change that tomorrow.

But if you are a women who writes and you don’t offer your work out for publication, or only do so hesitantly and tentatively, for the love of all things holy, send your work out more. If you are not a woman but also not some regular ol’ white guy, or a woman but not a regular ol’ white woman, same thing–the deck is also stacked against you, but you don’t dominate writing classes, and you still need to send your work out into the world.

Why? Because the first Real Writer(tm) I ever met was Wayson Choy, who visited my first-ever writing class and signed my book with “Your stories matter.” You, dear non-regular ol’ white guy reader, need to send your stories out into the world. Your stories matter.

If your stories are being dismissed, minimized, stolen, maimed or just not told at all, then your stories matter more.

If there are barriers in your way, I’m sorry. I wish there weren’t. I hope you find a way. But if the barrier is your own self-confidence or your own fears then please practice saying “Fuck you, I’m awesome!” in the mirror. Even if you don’t believe that, send your work out anyway.

Yes, you will get rejected. You will get rejected for good reasons and you will get rejected for stupid arbitrary reasons. You will get rejected for things you can control and things you cannot control. You will get rejected by people who do not understand your story but may tell you how you should fix it anyway, and you will be rejected by people who probably didn’t even read your story. You will be rejected by people you admire and by stupid people with no taste, and sometimes these will be the same people.

When you receive a rejection, you may be tempted to see this as a sign that you should stop sending out your work. Instead, get a trusted writing friend to tell you why that magazine is a shitty no-taste rag run by hacks, and that they can go fuck themselves. Then send your work out again.

Submitting more is not the end-all and be-all solution to the gender imbalance. Or all the many other imbalances. But it is the one concrete thing we can all do. You can give me every excuse in the book and I will hand it back to you as bullshit. Send your work out in the world.

Because as much as you might tell yourself that you are writing for you, and no one else, that is bullshit. You’ve imagined a book on a shelf in a bookstore with your name on it. You’ve wondered if a photo would make a good author pic. You’ve written your acknowledgments page in your head.

And as much as you might tell yourself that you aren’t good enough, that too is bullshit. I have seen the slushiest slush in the slushpile, and it is straight up batshit crazy. You are better than that. Every single piece of writing I’ve read from a classmate, a student, a writing group friend…. every single piece has been better than the worst of the pile. If those people think they are good enough to send work out, you’re more than good enough. Your stories matter the most.

And as much as you might fear rejections, let me tell you, each rejection is an affirmation. Because Real Writers get rejected. Every rejection slip you receive is proof positive you are a Real Writer(tm). Not an aspiring writer. Not someone who hopes to be a writer someday. But a bona fide Real Writer who stands behind their work enough to offer it for publication whether other people love it or not. Because Fuck you, I’m awesome.