Story of Revision
Whatever I can call my “workspace” today is a mess of paper, computers, and manuscripts. I still have a life, but when that life ends, I have to subject myself – only because of a compulsion – to revise my workshop entries. They got me that far, so I guess I’ll have to go further.
Writing something requires so much discipline as it stands. Revising it requires a lot more than just discipline, but humility as well. You start by making marginal notes and criticisms for your own work, taking slow death from other people’s input, and come out with a resurrected output.
Like a phoenix from a pile of ashes… of course, that’s what they all say. It’s one thing to talk about the importance of revising a story, but it’s another thing to actually do it. A month into revising my story, the Word document stands as it is the day I came back from Dumaguete: blank. Not that I didn’t get any work done, though.
It’s not just “editing,” but “revision:” a complete overhaul. Here’s a bad Haruki Murakami rip-off to illustrate it:
Wordspacewordspacewordspace. Monotthatwordbackspace. Let’susethisandrevise.
Revise. Wordspacewordspace. Thisfontsuckslet’schangeit. Thatdidn’tmakesense.
Thisthoughtdoesn’tcoincidewiththatthought. Thisshouldn’tbehere. Eraseerasewordspace.
Wordspacewordspace. Ohdamndeletesentence. Wordspacewordspaceohcrap.
After a month of revising a seven-page story, the blank Word document just stares at me. I glare at the stupid document with the stare of an idiot. The Quixotic struggle of windmills turned to woods makes me want to call Sancho and tell me to shoot this Cervantes wannabee dead. I don’t know who’s winning the battle: the story, or the guy who wrote it. The scribbles on the manuscript are there to guide me to rephrasing and restructuring sentences, fleshing out characters, concretizing themes. It’s the kind of bending over backwards that would eventually give me the right to kiss my own story’s ass.
The stories I tell, if not good enough in form and technique, will not be read in a world of glittering vampires, bitchiness, profound realizations, and erotica. What am I doing writing about the tired old stories of squatters? Why should I even bother with the life of the outsourced Pinoy? What am I doing wallowing in the misery of life, brooding about the human condition, writing about human adversity and the injustice of society? Other people don’t, I do. I can’t write well, so I guess I should prove that in the best way I know how: by trying my very best to write well.
That’s what revision is all about: asking the question “Why?” so many times until it reflects in your story. It’s not just the grammar, the choice of words, or the spelling that someone corrects during a revision, but the story itself.
Even I’m starting to doubt it all. Other people can do it, I can’t. There just seems, at least to me, the urge and fury to put so much effort into something that does not pay off. Who cares? Who reads? What’s the point?
Yet even doubt has to wait. Revising my story means I’ll have to revise myself as well. The most self-destructive insecurity complex that I know of – mine – should not get in the way of the task at hand. I need to have that kind of humility to accept the fact that no matter how bad I think I am, only I can make that revision.
Rephraserestructurefleshoutconcretize. Breakdownrebuilddestroyconstructkillresurrect. Those things can wait.