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.