Bifocals for Authorial Vision

I recently finished watching the movie Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women. (It’s a great movie about a fascinating woman in a fascinating family–I recommend it highly!) If you don’t know, Louisa May Alcott was the J.K. Rowling of her time, growing so successful from her children’s books that she became, in adjusted figures, a multi-millionaire. Little Women was published in 1868 and 1869 (it was originally a two-volume set) and has never gone out of print. But someone (Geraldine Brooks, I think) in the documentary pointed out Alcott’s fatal flaw, the flaw that has kept the bulk of her work from achieving even one-tenth the recognition of Little Women: she almost never took time to revise.

Revision. For me, the weirdest part of the writing process. The other day I was writing a poem and by the time I’d reached the last stanza, I had an entirely new vision for the piece. When I typed it up, fifteen minutes after jotting it down on a piece of paper, it was a whole new animal. Other pieces, I write the first draft and when I reread them,  I know they’re wrong, but the solution to them wriggles away. I have to set them aside and wait and wait for a new conceptual framework to present itself.

I find that most of the time when things don’t work in a piece, it’s because my original vision doesn’t fit with my execution–not because of lack of skill, but because I somehow lack the proper set of perspectives to see deeply into the original, generative idea. A work might have to be put aside for a long time while I absorb new experiences and new ideas that can refocus my thoughts, as if my mind were building a lens of ideas to refit over my impaired authorial vision. Bifocals for the writing brain, perfect for re-visioning my work.

Of course, the question remains: where do I get the materials make those new lenses? Like the ideas that inspired the work in the first place, my corrective ideas must come from my life and my reading. Today, I’m excited because I’m going to take a teaser class from The Attic Institute called “Poets! Read to Revise!” I’m hoping it will give me new insight into the revisioning process.

This will be the first formal writing class I’ve gone to since I was a college student, and I’m hoping it will be a good experience. But it’s just one evening’s worth of material, and I’m sure I have a great deal to learn about revision. Do any of you have any books or websites you’d like to share with me (us all, really!) on the topic of revision? I’d love to see them!

 

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  • Wendy, you are the master of revision! (remembering you helping me cut 500 words from my Rigor Amortis flash piece, when I thought I could cut no more)

    Revision is my weakest area–it’s like torture to me. To remedy this, I’m slowly going through David Madden’s Revising Fiction: A Handbook for Writers. It’s packed with practical techniques, like “24. Are your verbs passive, as opposed to active?” “102. Does your character need a speech signature to make him or her more vivid?”, etc. Reading this book has been eye-opening to me–revision is a little too organic and unstructured for me. Now that I have some indicators of what to look for, it’s like learning swim strokes when I’ve been desperately doing the dog paddle for so long.

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