Do Not Polish A Mess*

March 22nd, 2005 · 3 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Gwenda Bond, she of Shaken & Stirred (there’s a woman who knows the right decision to make when encountering a novice bartender), wrote a few things last week that we meant to get back to because she touches on topics near and dear to our heart.

First, she revels in the joy that is revision. We cannot express how much fun revising is. First drafts, for us, are like root canals from the patient’s perspective**. Revision is, well, like surgery performed by the most gifted of gifted surgeons. Yes, we’re feeling good about our work today, why do you ask? She says,

Cutting is the best. It leaves all these holes and possibilities and, perhaps most important of all, makes the work something so different, you are forced to come to it with new eyes. When what you knew and had affection for is gone, you can replace it with something excitingly unfamiliar and loved.

Tell us that isn’t beautiful. Gwenda’s post is exactly the thing we needed to read as we look at a mess and try to find form. Sometimes we feel like Michelangelo staring at a block of marble; mostly we feel like someone reading a map upside down. Because we live in blogworld where everything is backwards, her first post on the topic forms a fine conclusion for this post:

“The work is never done” is one of the most frightening sentences in the world. I’m not sure how true it is either, but I have to at least believe in a stage of abandonment that feels like doneness.

* – Probably we should tattoo this phrase to our forehead. Backward. From The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop : A Guide to the Craft of Fiction by Stephen Koch
** – Based on what we’ve heard, not personal experience.

File Under: Tools and Craft

3 responses so far ↓

  • ed // Mar 22, 2005 at 4:13 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with Gwenda’s sentiments. Rewriting, being a ruthless barbarian? That’s the fun and liberating part. Writing something out of the ether? There’s where you’re expected to perform the allemandes.

  • Lorra // Mar 22, 2005 at 5:51 pm

    When you polish a mess, it’s like trying to scratch an itch you can’t find. It’s frustrating, yet you can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong until someone who understands the process shows you the source of the itchiness. Then, and only then, do you get relief.

  • Booksquare // Mar 22, 2005 at 7:05 pm

    Writing would be infinintely more entertaining if I could get a brain dump onto my laptop. I’m totally willing to chop and slice and rework and rearrange and do all manner of vicious stuff to my words…it’s just that first draft that kills me. I have no idea why — it’s not like I don’t have the entire soundtrack rolling through my brain at all times.

    Though, as I think about it, I probably shouldn’t call the first outpouring of stuff a draft. That gives it far too much credit. I don’t even allow Jill to go near my stuff until it’s been through at least two wringers. If not more.