Sunday, October 05, 2008

On Revision

Sorry my blog has been so political lately. It's on my mind. I think Biden said it best when he said, "This is the most important election you can vote in..." Actually, it seems the most important election was actually 2000, but who knew it then. But looking forward, yes, this is the most important election of our lives.

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But I just apologized for politics so let's talk poetry...

I haven't been writing many new poems lately, but doing a lot of revising.

I was talking with someone last night and she said that many times women revise more than men. Men will be more happy with what they originally come up with, where women will want to tweak things more and change things. I do have male poets who write like that, but a couple of guy friends does not make a rule, so I wanted to talk about how true this is.

I'm a crazy revisionist, so I can only speak for myself (and not other women, and esp. not men), so just curious, if you're a man, how much time do you give to the revision process and when you finish a first draft, are you pretty much happy with what you have? And to the women--how often when you finish a first draft do you consider it done?

It's obviously a general idea and obviously cannot be true or false because we're all individuals, but I'm interested in knowing --when you have first draft, how close it is to done for you?

I have friends who write and rewrite a line throughout their poem or essay, so when they finish, yes, they are pretty close to done because they've been revising the whole time. But when I have a first draft, rarely do I place a crown on it and put it in the palace of manuscript. Mostly, it has to sit around for awhile. It has to do some chores, change its clothes, scrub the cellar.

It's a hard long walk to the palace of manuscript. Once I put what a thought was a prince in my manuscript and it turned out to be a frog 3 months later-- how did it happen? It happened because I was so in love with the new man in my life. It happened because I could not see past his symbolic jewels, this metaphoric velvet robe. The prince rode in one night on a white horse when I wasn't expecting him and I yelled, "Prince!" From there is was just a series of bad decisions. Three months later when the infatuation ended, I was reading through my manuscript and found a frog on page 16. It happens.

For me, I find it's best to write the poem (essay, story, etc) and put it away for awhile. Not a huge chunk of time. Not Donald Hall's 3 years in a drawer. That seems crazy because when you find that writing 3 years later, you are no longer that person and not in the space. I'd say a week is good. Sometimes two.

I return to the poem and read it with fresh eyes. I always love it when I return to my poem and have no idea what I was talking about it. If I can't understand my own poem, how do I expect anyone else to?

The best advice I've received on revising was from the Stephen King book,On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He said something like: write with the door shut, revise with the door open. Basically don't worry about your reader when you write, but when you revise, consider them.

This makes sense to me.

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