As you prepare your wonderful essays for Segullah’s Heather Campbell Personal Essay Contest, and your poetry for our poetry contest, I paraphrase Jacob 6:12 with this advice: “O Revise, What Can I say More?”
Maybe I should just stop there; maybe the admonition to revise thoroughly ought to speak for itself. But I’m a talker, so I will do more than that, with these Reasons to Revise.
1- All the cool writers are doing it.
For example: if you have a secret writer crush on Shannon Hale (what? not me! of course not! I’m just thinking of other people who might.) you might be interested to read what she’s got to say on the subject. In this link, she gives a word count for each of the twelve different drafts of Austenland. This piece, full of great advice for wanna be writers, uses the word “rewrite” seven times. She’s quite fervent on the subject. She’s also got a great link full of quotes from other famous authors on rewriting, here. And then, as an editor, I really love what she says on this link about working with an editor. As you’re working on your contest essay, find yourself a good editor, take Shannon Hale’s advice, and apply it.
2-The wanna-be writers (that would be, um, me) are doing it too.
Case in point, with a bit of shameless promotion. The new issue of Irreantum will contain my essay “Beauty for Ashes” in it. Am I excited? You have no idea. I’m very much a novice writer, and I feel all tingly that I get to be there. Not worthy, not worthy. A bit of background on that essay: the version you will read in Irreantum is at least the tenth draft. To be more honest, I have lost count of the number of drafts it’s been through. It went from loose ideas on beauty, all messy, to a more organized structure, to an super-organized structure, to a less organized structure that worked better, to picky analysis of every sentence, by me, and by two editors, plus a copy editor. I swear I have analyzed every “to be” and passive verb, every blasted prepositional phrase, in that thing. Am I sick of it? Well, yeah. I’m also excited to see it in print, though. As a novice writer, I’m always surprised at the level of work, of revising, required to take something from an idea in my head to words on page. Writing is work! It’s fun, yes. Satisfying. But it’s also work.
3-Revision is an act of humility.
Every time I show my writing to someone, and say “Tell me what you think. Be honest. No really, I can take it.” it’s so hard. Because what I’m secretly wishing for is that they’ll say “This is amazing! Astounding! Send that puppy in–it doesn’t need a single thing more.” And I adore my first drafts. I write them in this lovely haze of inspiration. I read them over and memorize their brilliant lines to myself.
It’s so humbling to have someone tell me that this and that and the other need to be changed. Even humiliating, sometimes. But here’s the thing: until I learned to humble myself, find a good editor, get the critiques, and implement them, I never improved past a certain point. Rough drafts can only go so far. A good editor will help you make the words on paper come closer to the words in your heart. That is the only way your readers will be able to really appreciate your experience as you’d like them to. And the humbling is so worth it, when you write something that really connects with a reader.
4-Revision is an act of truth-finding.
I used to think that the first draft of an essay was it. There it came, fully formed, out of my head and onto the computer screen, voila! But what I’ve found is that the first draft of my essay is really only what I think about the issue on that day. If I write about the same thing a different day, something else will come out. And another day, and another. What I absolutely love about revising essays is the way these truths coalesce, so that I can find what’s really going on in my head and my heart. The better my rewriting, the more true my essay becomes. Messy, early-draft essays have the seeds there, but they are not as clear, as resonant, as the later revisions.
5-I want you to win this contest. I really, really do.
Okay, not everyone can win it. Sigh. But you could. Those ideas you’re kicking around, that you’ve been playing with? Another few drafts, and they could turn into a winning essay.