Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Beginning and even intermediate writers will find this book useful if they haven’t come to understand that revision — especially deep revision — gives them a chance to turn adequate work into something extraordinary. “Revision is a form of love,” Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew says. “Creativity is the capacity to see or make newness. Revision is the flourishing of creativity. It is the work of seeing with new eyes … revision is a natural consequence of growth.”
Experienced writers who have already learned that lesson will appreciate the step-by-step approach, helpful exercises, and “toolboxes” that she offers. For example, “Choose one moment in your story where a shift occurs … What of the before and after content belongs in your project?”
At every step, her voice is gentle, encouraging, practical, and, as the title says, spiritual. “The work of revision draws bits of heaven down to earth … the endeavor, regardless of success, is always worthwhile.”
But I think this book speaks too little of the joy of writing. It dwells on the struggles and painful self-discovery, as if writing was always grim labor, and glosses over the thrill of creation, the excitement of seeing a story shaped and reshaped into the thing of beauty you had hoped for, and the near-physical pleasure of doing work that feeds the soul. Writing is hard work, yes, but so is making music. Have you ever noticed how often singers and musicians are smiling onstage? When you write, it’s okay if you smile, too.
Revision doesn’t have to make your heart ache. Actors don’t bemoan rehearsal, and rewriting is the same process in a different art form. If revision is painful, maybe the problem is with your desk chair, not your writing skills or creative soul.