Often in my classes, students say, “I hate to revise. It feels like to destroys the original intent of the piece. I like the rawness of what comes out on the first draft.” When I hear these comments, and they come in almost every class, I know it is part of my job to help them understand that good writing only comes – most of the time – through revision.
These students believe that their first drafts are the most true, most real because they think that anything tempered cannot be beautiful. It seems that they think the ephemeral, the momentary, is most powerful, more honest than that which is crafted or fleshed out. I think this may be a product of our culture where we tell people to “speak their mind” when what we really are saying is that they should have license to say anything, even when it’s not the deepest truth of the moment.
I also think this resistance to revision comes, in part, from a desire to see experience and inspiration and creativity as simplistic. It’s as if we believe that each idea has only one facet instead of being as multi-faceted as a prism. We think that if we capture it “right” the first time then there’s no value to exploring the depths of the idea, memory, or scene. It’s like we write with a “reality show” mindset.
But the truth is far more complex than that. Each moment, each idea has many angles off of which we can bounce light, but it is usually only with more reflection, only with more time and more energy put toward something that we can see that. We see the chance to re-vise – to re-see – experience so that we can know it’s full beauty or pain.
Perhaps this is why we have a world that functions on a 24-hour cycle; each day we get to wake and re-see our experience with fresh eyes. Our writing deserves the same chance. So sleep on your work at least one night – write that composition essay two nights before it’s due and then look at it again the next day with fresh eyes; draft that report for work and then leave it on your desk while you go home and have a nice dinner; hide your novel’s first draft in a drawer for a few days while you work on something else. This re-vision – the act of seeing something new – is something each of us is graced with. Can we have the patience and belief in the beauty of depth to see it?