Encouragement for Writers (and Characters) in Revision
As writers, we spend the majority of our time in revision. It’s where we truly get to know our characters and ourselves. It’s a time of intense concentration that requires different skill sets than first drafts. Revision is where we hone our craft. Where we wrestle. Where we experience the deepest depths, darkest fears, brightest illuminations. It is the real work of a writer and where writers and characters need the most support.
If you’re like most, revision is never done until you decide it’s done. Story is one of the only art forms that can always be improved, changed, re-directed, given new form. Because we spend so much time in revision, there are a few things we can be mindful of during the process.
It’s okay to feel lost.
We think we should always know where we’re going, don’t we? We get critical, trusted feedback; we take time to listen to our guidance on that feedback; we feel strong pressure to know where the story should be going from fade in to fade out. Some people swear by their ability to plot out their entire story from beginning to end. If that works for you, that’s wonderful. It doesn’t work for me. Story unfolds as I write it. I have a general understanding (usually) of the beginning and the end, with glimpses of points along the way. But for the most part, I don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens to the characters. I don’t know what they’re going to say until they say it. That may sound very chaotic, but for me, it works. I am the container that the story flows from. I give it shape and form, a place for the characters to dwell. Knowing up front where we’re all going? Not going to happen. Feeling lost and completely blind at times is just part of the art form. Which leads me to the next point.
Time is irrelevant, even with deadlines.
You’ve got a deadline – what do you do? Keep working. But work without striving. If you strive, you’ll lock down your ability to be receptive. Being receptive is 90% of your job. Keep an open mind toward time and understand that you can’t force it. So, take breaks. Step away. Listen to different music. Be present and available, there to receive. Keep a mindset that you’re on duty. Some of that time, you’ll only be on call. Waiting for the characters, waiting for something (you may never know what) to occur where the next scene or thought formulates. You may need to sit at your screen and just write. You’ll get a feel for the story’s rhythm, how the characters prefer to work with you, and the ebb and tide of your own process as a writer. Just flow, don’t force.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive.
Revision is stressful on you and even more stressful on your characters. If you’ve got a solid draft down, they’ve done considerable work with and for you. They’ve poured their energy and emotions into it far more than you have. And let’s face it, most of story is conflict and that’s a tough energy to sustain and endure. Give them a break. You’ve got to get characters to work with you, even if they disagree at first at the changes you (as the Story Director) are asking them to make. Include them in your decision-making process and they’ll surprise you with their willingness to dig deeper. Your protagonist and antagonist carry the most weight and should have the most influence on you. If you think of your characters as a cast (and bear in mind the actors who will embody their roles) and yourself as the Story Director, you’ll be able to ask characters to do or try new things — to fight harder, to reveal more, to defy each other — with the safety that at the end of the day, they’re all still friends.
Characters need you more than ever to be perceptive. You need to be available, there as coach, confidant, leader, ally, therapist, and witness. You will never work more closely with your characters than you will during revision. Build your team. Be compassionate. Be tough. And remember, no matter what, you’re responsible for making the final decisions.
Doubts are normal and necessary.
We all go through it. Doubts, fears, wondering how we’re ever going to pull this off. We run up against challenges that make us quiver. This happens to every one. Success just makes it worse. Doubts are part of the process and this never changes. But think about it — doubts mean we’ve come to a place that is stretching us to either grow as a writer (and a person) or quit. There are no other options. If you grow, you expand your writing acumen, your craft and your experience.
Your mind and spirit need to disengage.
You’re in the midst of revision on a project you feel passionate about. Time passes unnoticed. You are in your story more than out of it. You think about it all of the time. You push on, keep going. Just stop for a moment. Your mind and spirit need a break. The more engaged you are in revision, the more likely that you’re dealing with characters and scenes that are emotionally trying. To the characters, and to you. These emotions may have little or nothing to do with your non-writing life though. You need space to process them. (If you’re not feeling your character’s emotions, you need to dig deeper, because if you can’t feel them, your reader/viewer won’t either.) Let your character’s emotions flow in and through you, but make sure you let them flow away and out of you as well.
Be patiently persistent.
Take the attitude that you will never give up. If what you’re writing means something to you, then set it in your heart that you will do whatever it takes to nurture it, protect it, support it and carry it into the world. Set it in your heart, too, that the process of writing is the real life of a writer. It’s not the film made, the book published. It’s the act of writing. That’s where your successes arise, that’s where you feel the joy. That’s where you are a writer.