If this week had a theme, it would be revision. Lectures, workshops, and meetings with professors have focused primarily on the essential process of editing and rewriting. On Monday, I attended a reading by author Elias Khoury (White Masks, Little Mountain), who avowed that the end of a narrative or character is where the story begins, that the story lives in the retelling. Similarly, according to novelist Walter Mosley, the completed first draft of a novel represents the margin between potential and work of art. “Now that you have come to the end […], you are ready to write it” (This Year You Write Your Novel).
What I love most about writing is the opportunity, the necessity, to revise again and again, sometimes ad infinitum, for as long as the story, poem, or essay continues to enthrall and engage me with its promise. I am a dedicated and zealous reviser. My current projects (obsessions) include expanding an essay I just abridged to meet a conference word limitation, amending another essay to shift its focus from critical theory to the literary text, and a fourth draft of a short story. Time of Death chapters originally contemplated in first person were written in third (my futile endeavor to maintain a detached perspective) and are now being converted back to first.
As writers and, hopefully, as humans, we learn from our mistakes and evolve beyond first attempts. Through subsequent efforts, we learn to critique and analyze and correct. We master interactions and dialogue once executed clumsily and eliminate the extraneous. We recognize the banality in experiences and ideas once thought profound and supplant them with truly meaningful moments and insights. We find our soul and our viaticum.
According to Mosley, the process of rewriting is endless because the work never attains perfection. “This is true for all writers in all forms. Books are not pristine mathematical equations. They are representative of humanity and are therefore flawed.” Only when correction or improvement of any perceptible problems is deemed impossible is the writing finished.