Story of Revision

By in
4 comments

SDC10309Whatever 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.
Okaythatdidn’tworkdeletethesentence.  Wordspacewordspaceword…
Damnwrongspellinglet’skeeponrevising.
Thatsentencedidn’tworkokaylet’sdothisagain.  Spacedamnbackspacewordspaceword.
Revise.  Wordspacewordspace.  Thisfontsuckslet’schangeit.  Thatdidn’tmakesense.
Thisthoughtdoesn’tcoincidewiththatthought.  Thisshouldn’tbehere.  Eraseerasewordspace.
Wordspacewordspace.  Ohdamndeletesentence.  Wordspacewordspaceohcrap.
Let’sdothisrevisionsomeothertime.

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.

4 comments on “Story of Revision”

    • rom
    • June 26, 2009
    Reply

    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?

    If that’s what you feel like writing about, why not?

    My two-cent non-sense: Maybe I’m too pop, but in my serious writing – which I don’t put up on the net – I try to make the stories interesting, rather than depressing. I mean, if I can find a way to entertain and then sneak in the message, I’m happy. Kinda like subliminal preaching, if you get what I mean.

    I’ve always found unrelieved misery in writing boring. I find poignant moments stretched out the length and breadth of the piece tedious. And I do not want to spend the precious few moments I have to read to be consumed by such sad sad prose.

    I don’t need to be pummeled with reminders of how shitty my life is in order to care. And so I assume that my readers, such as they are, don’t need that too.

    I write to entertain, therefore. Instead of focusing on the misery of the human condition, I try to find the million ways people discover to make that misery survivable. If it’s as banal as porn, why not?

    So bring on the vampires.

    1. Reply

      Rom:

      There’s always sense in nonsense. Of course I always take heed of the advice of those people reading what’s here, so thanks for that. I do write about vampires and myths and such, but heaven forbid I’m too embarrassed to post them. I posted this because I’m so frustrated with a story I can barely revise.

      Maybe I’m too much of the brooding pall of dread for anything, but my main weakness is being very heavy-handed, admittedly, but I want people to be reminded of the stories often told but almost always certainly ignored. I appreciate the fact that you right to hit people in the heart, but I also hope you appreciate the fact that I very often write to hit you in the stomach. Not exactly the best way to do things, but it becomes a reminder to me that everyone has a story, and many people don’t have the same talent as you, for example, to tell *their own* stories.

      Granted that not many people appreciate that, but I am always ready and eager to learn new things about writing. I’m a student of the art, not a teacher or an expert. I explore new ways of doing things, and I know where I’m not good at, and I try to refine my skills in things that I am reasonably good at. I think that’s the “humility” that comes with revising a work; taking a step back to look not only for lapses in grammar and spelling, but to take a step back to see where this particular text fits in with the whole of society. Being realistic means that you have to strive not only for the Real, but for the True; it is not enough to know, but you should also feel. It’s not enough to inform, but you should also redeem.

      Behind the heavy weight of a story – the Real – I hope that it did come to you (for at least one point in your reading of depressing prose somewhere out there) to care, to share, to be compassionate, to resist – the True. (Now I blew it, damn, I should stick to translating lyrics now)

      New things I learned tonight, though. At least here, the world of hungry vampires can wait at the back of the line for the world of hungry people.

      Cheers!

    • rom
    • June 26, 2009
    Reply

    I get you. I really do. Maybe it’s just that, growing up, I cut my teeth on fairy tales and so learned to appreciate the hidden message more than the revealed truth. It’s the difference between a scimitar and a broadsword, I suppose.

  1. Reply

    rom:

    i was raised on fairy tales too, but i just don’t like them. i’m a muckraker, not a storyteller. 😉

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