Rocky recently joined our household. He is a fur ball of energy. We’ve laughed over his insane play, grown tired of his sharp teeth testing toes, rewarded outside pooping, and begun teaching the many lessons a puppy needs to co-exist with humans. (I promise this will turn to writing strategy and not be a gushing puppy love piece.)
The puppy training bible recommends owners remember that everything done in these early months establish the rhythms and rules of a dog’s entire life. The writer, probably sitting next to a calm adult dog, encourages patient and thoughtful responses to cute, but crazy, puppy actions. Rocky is our fifth consecutive furry family member so we’re not strangers to this process. Patience and thoughtfulness can be tough challenges at five in the morning or after the third accident of the day.
Revising the last book of the Ashwood trilogy, the puppy bible writer’s words come to mind. Slow down, treat the manuscript carefully, be thoughtful, don’t let frustration push action. That makes sense. Right?
Writers have their own revision processes. Boman Desai, the kind of writer who handles words like a musician searching for dynamics, shared one part of his process with a MFA literary fiction workshop group. He circulated copies of worksheets, each with a sentence on the top and lines and lines of subtle changes—maybe placing a comma in a different place, replacing a word, adding a single syllable adjective to create new rhythm. Some of the sentences went through more than a dozen changes, others a handful. The Memory of Elephants, the novel for which he is best known, is well-crafted literary fiction.
Jodi Picoult has four people reading her work as she writes then incorporates their recommendations in revisions. She says she writes until she is sick of the book and knows there will be more revisions as the books moves through her publisher.
Revision work is challenging. It is like cooking an incredible meal then not sharing it until each course has been broken apart, seasonings or baking times adjusted. Sometimes the entire order of the dishes must be changed; sometimes a favorite must be scrapped. And what I want to do is set the table and invited my friends to sit down.
The puppy bible writer inspired a breakthrough moment: Is it possible to turn the concept of “working on revision” to patiently moving through the second creative phase of writing a book? With each book I am changing my revision style and understanding that if I push beyond looking at the mechanics of sentences and paragraphs, discovery is a delightful part of the process. Maybe Rocky’s training will mark a time of growth for me as well–from dutiful revising writer to author engaged in a continuous creative process.