On Revising

“You know what I love? I love revising. Getting the first stuff done is always hard but once it’s done and you can see what’s wrong with it, you can see that one page that ought to have been five pages earlier and that sort of thing.” – P.G. Wodehouse

As a child, I was firmly attached to my stories as they were, and consequently I was appalled by the idea of rewriting as well as editing. I used to think that editing was just cutting down on something that was already good – that didn’t need changing – and, sometimes, this is true. During the time when I was of this particular mindset, I read Eragon, the first book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy (when it was still being written) and afterward, on his website I saw an example of how one passage had originally been written before it was edited, and as it appears in the book, and I only perceived how it was different and the bits that had been either omitted completely or altered; it didn’t matter if the writing was good or not, that was all that I could see.

This was largely the same point I had, and from the same attachment, about rewriting, or rather the pointlessness of rewriting: if one had already written it, why did it need to be rewritten? My thoughts on this matter changed, however, when I watched the BBC documentary Wogan on Wodehouse. There was a brief clip from an old interview with P.G. Wodehouse, describing how he wrote, quoted at the start of this post (the documentary, which used to be available on YouTube, was taken down but you can watch the clips of his interviews included in the documentary in the above video).

What he said about rewriting was particularly illuminating to me and I felt a shift in my consciousness about the whole rewriting process – when you’re writing from scratch, it can be hard but once you’ve got it down, then the real fun begins as you rewrite it because you have the whole picture in front of you. (A small note: sometimes when one finds himself in a state of flow, the writing can just pour out effortlessly.)

Depending on how one rewrites depends on as much as the writer as the technology being used to write. When I’m on a computer and revising anything I’ve written, whether it’s a post or essay, etc., after I’ve written it I’ll sometimes move around the paragraphs and change their order –  as P.G. Wodehouse said, “one can see that page one ought to have been five pages earlier”. Using paper and pen (my preferred way), I will cross things out and make changes in the margins or a post-it note (or a scrap of paper stapled to the page), drawing arrows to and from paragraphs to rearrange. Sometimes I’ll tear out a page and rewrite the whole thing in the moment, until I have a couple drafts of the same scene. In some ways, there’s a greater feeling of productivity when doing it on paper because one can see all the changes made and also because it’s tangible. There’s a sense of value that can’t be felt in the same way as when one hits the delete key; a feeling of finality of words that are gone forever.


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