The Nightmare of Revision: Drinking with Dante and Wilde

The following is syndicated from Lauren Grimley: Writing, Life, and Other Misadventures and is posted here with permission.

riter Oscar Wilde summed up the final stages of revisions aptly when he said, “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back in again.” What he didn't explain to non-writers is that in the hours in between those decisions he had obssessed over whether such a minute change would drastically alter the effectiveness of his sentence, which could determine the outcome of a scene, which would ultimately make or break the entire plot. Yup, the final stages of revision suck. They suck the joy you once had in your characters, your plot, your style. They suck your confidence in your ability to write anything more interesting than the back of a cereal box. Actually cereal boxes seem quite entertaining compared to some of the scenes I've revised recently.

In the early stages of a draft, the solitude of writing is joyful. It's just the writer with their characters and ideas. It's a happy little secret that no one can spoil. The ideas as well as the writing might be rough, but they're also virginal, untainted by the harsh voices of critics, editors, and readers, which will eventually all creep in–long before a critic, editor, or reader ever gets his hands on it. Whoever originally dubbed these pieces "shitty first drafts" had obviously left the Neverland of writing and had fallen hard on their rump in the land of revision.

That's not to say that my first drafts aren't indeed craptastic. When my pudgy smudgy hand pens the final line of my handwritten draft, there is dire need for revision. I've even grown to like these early stages. I love how my brain works differently going from paper to screen than it does when I initially scratch out my ideas. I love fixing an awkward line, only to reread it and think, damn, I'm good. I've even gotten to the point where I can cut major scenes without mourning over the loss of a great, but unnecessary, one-liner or superfluous character development. Revision in the early stages is rewarding. You know what's wrong, so you fix it.

Revision in the later stages is a lonely, maddening head game. You're driven crazy by the feeling there is more to be fixed, but you no longer know what that is, or worse, you do, but haven't a clue how to fix it. Those imaginary voices that crept in and taunted you during your initial revisions have all gone mute. Instead of enjoying the silence, you desperately hope they'll return. Because no critic, real or imaginary, can be more severe, more crushing to your self-esteem as a writer than your own voice at this stage. You second-guess every decision, wondering if it's possible that you're actually making the draft worse. You spend more time with your finger lingering over the delete button than you do actually rewriting. You become Oscar Wilde, pondering punctuation for hours, truly believing the placement of a comma could make or break not just this one book, but your entire writing career.

This is where I've spent the last week and a half. Writer's hell, the final stages of revision. I'm beginning to see why so many of the great writers took to drinking. Fortunately, I have managed, so far, to get by on lesser vices, the caffeine in my mid-morning iced-coffees and the sun of my mid-afternoon walks. Sometime midweek, I turned off my inner-critic and slipped back into writer mode. Problems suddenly had solutions. Cut scenes found a home in a separate saved document where I feel less sad and guilty about leaving them. Back-story finally fit in polite unobtrusive places later in the story. And character development learned to play nicely with plot.

My sanity is mostly in tact. My draft on book two, Unveiled, I hope, is starting to resemble something publishable. When I can manage to make it through breakfast without worrying that my opening pages aren't worthy of the back of the Fiber One box, I'll know it's time to move onto to my next favorite stage of writing: submission, otherwise known as Purgatory. I wonder who drank more, Wilde or Dante?

Bio and Book Link


by Lauren Grimley

Lauren Grimley lives in central Massachusetts where she grew up, but her heart is on the beaches of Cape Cod where she spends as much of her time as possible. After graduating from Boston University she became a middle school English teacher. She has her seventh graders to thank for starting her on this path; it was they who convinced a rather skeptical new teacher vampire stories were worth reading.

She now spends her time writing them when she should be correcting papers. If she finds free time beyond these activities, she’s likely to spend it on a beach with a book and bottle of wine close by.