You must always be intoxicated. It is the key to all: the one question. In order not to feel the horrible burden of Time breaking your breaking your back, and bending you to the earth, you must become drunk, without truce.
But on What? On wine, poetry, or virtue, as you wish. – Charles Baudelaire
I’m deep in the throes of revising and editing a very old novel.
By “deep in the throes” I mean to be dramatic. Really dramatic. As dramatic as a child with a tiny splinter in her finger watching her mother take her by the hand and bring a set of metal tweezers to the wound. Dramatic as the certainty that child has that it will hurt worse to have those metal tweezers burn her flesh (as she is certain they will) than to worry at the sliver with her teeth. As dramatic as a mother steeling herself against her child’s pain and denial, sweating and cursing silently, and wishing it were over before it is even done. That level of drama.
Yah. I hate revising.
Maybe it’s the performance storyteller in me – you never get a chance to go back and rewrite your words once their out your mouth and through the air. What’s done is done and you just do your best as you perform, to give the clearest metaphors, the most dramatic plots, and complex, but relate-able characters possible. If you fail, well, there’s next performance.
But you never get to do that same performance over again.
Not so with writing. In writing, you speak your mind, use the tidiest metaphors, develop those characters and plots over time. Then you look at it again. Or you have someone else look at it again. And you try to find the gaps in the story, look for the missing links to theme, correct for the upteenth time that pesky word that the spell checker always helpfully reverts to something completely unintended. Then you do the process again. And again. And again.
And the idea is that you’re saving your manuscript, allowing it to grow and become better than it was before. Tighter, cleaner, leaner, and by extension, more brilliant and wonderful.
The trouble is, there was a rhythm set up to the words in the first draft and to enter that rhythm again is, in many ways as impossible as entering the same stream twice, as philosphers say. It’s not the same stream. Those waters have moved on. The rhythm has moved on.
So there I stand on a rock in the middle of a revision stream, looking down-a-ways at the rapids tearing the stream apart and making a muddle of flotsam. There’s a flat rock close by, a promise of a new way of looking at a scene, a promise that the vantage from this new rock will be a better one. Problem is that rock is not right next to where I’m standing.
I have to stretch to reach that new place of seeing, and anyone who knows me, knows I don’t like getting wet. At all. Other than the purposes of hygeine, water is best watched from a distance in the form of the sea or drunk ice cold while sea-gazing. Perhaps it’s about risk or perfectionism or failure, but it ultimately about uncertainty.
What if my current rock, my current vantage point is the best one? What if that other rock, that other way of looking at things isn’t all that wonderful? What if I end up dropping the piece into the water where it flows downstream churns against the rocks never to come together again?
Here’s the thing – I know revision is critical to writing. I get that I can’t just hope that my talent and current skills can bring the essays alive. I’ve gotta keep letting my art teach me my art or my art will never grow.
So, here’s to water of revision. May my drunkeness deliver me to a new way of seeing things and not drown in me in a stream of fearful ‘what if’s.’