I love writing. I do. Love the creation of something that has never existed in the world before, love the way dialogue plays in my head, love the sound the keys make as I transcribe it to the page. But today I have a confession to make: as much as I love writing, I hate rewriting. Even now, I’m about ready to chuck my computer into the washing machine and set it on spin if my husband gives me one more note to make this opening paragraph “punchier.” There. Punchy enough? I know, I know, don’t blame the messenger. And the truth is, like the famous quote points out, writing is rewriting. But the necessity of it doesn’t make it any easier. It is difficult, tedious and sometimes painful work. It hurts to whittle away words that hard work have wrought – to “kill your darlings” as Falkner once quipped. Hard to look at your own work with a critical eye (or to stop being so critical in some cases.) It is difficult to cut away lines you love, characters you have grown to adore and scenes you are proud of, simply because they aren’t moving the story forward. And the most painful part of the process for me is facing the fact that I will never be perfect the first time around. Or the second. Or even the fifteenth. In fact, perfection as a writer is completely unattainable…but a great story is not. And that is what rewriting will win you. Just like Michelangelo chipping away at the stone to discover his David, or a master jeweler cutting away parts of a diamond to find the maximum shine – brilliance is in the editing. And the interesting thing is: the same can be said for life.
The author John Irving famously said, “Half my life is an act of revision.” I would take it a step further and say that all of life is. Have you ever noticed the clarity that comes from cutting out the things in your life that are keeping your story from moving forward? That’s because things like guilt and resentment and unrealistic expectations only serve to distract from the important things in life, the central plot, if you will. Grudges, anger and fear can bog down a life and make it as ineffectual just as an extra twenty pages in the middle of a second act can ruin a good screenplay. I know it is not an easy process to evaluate the things in your script that are holding you back from greatness – and harder still to make the actual cut once you’ve narrowed in on the problem. Personally I will often try everything I can to keep a scene that I’ve written in my script, even when it isn’t working, because of the fear that I won’t be able to come up with something better. It feels safer to stick with what you know and to try to force it to work because the unknown makes us vulnerable. And the impulse that compels a writer to keep clunky scenes and expositional dialogue in her work is the same thing that makes us hold onto bad relationships and stay in unfulfilling jobs that are keeping us from reaching our full potential – mainly, we are afraid there might not be anything better out there.
Plain and simple, revision is an act of faith – it requires that you hit the delete key before you can write something new in its place. And sometimes in life you have to take a leap of faith to chip away those familiar pieces of stone, whose heavy rigidness you have mistaken for stability, in order to find the masterpiece that lies just beneath. And trust me, while you might hate the process, if you push through the tough changes and don’t throw the computer in the washing machine, you will end up with something you love and can’t wait to share with the world.
I challenge you this week to use an editor’s eye to take a look at the story you want to tell with your life. Is there something you’ve been doing or thinking that just doesn’t seem to serve that story? Is there a person or thing keeping the plot from moving forward? If so, maybe it’s time to hit the delete key and make room for something new…