It’s a Saturday morning in June in Northern California. A brief hot spell has generously given way to the gorgeous, low 70’s blue sky I see outside my window. The lawn is drinking the water I set out after mowing it this morning. It’s 9:20am.
Before me rests the 225,000 word manuscript that is System Seven. Pandora radio is streaming my ambient station. Haunting flutes, deep congo drums, and synthesizers paint tension and drama on the canvas of the family room where I write. A tall glass of iced water sits within reach. I’m settled, ready to be the writer.
In revision, which is where I’m at now with the script, every paragraph, every sentence is subject to the prodding and testing necessary to achieve a few things: a.) plot accuracy, b.) story continuity, c.) relevancy, and d.) brevity. Since I’m revising certain premises, the testing for A and B are all important, literally like heart surgery for the story. C and D are also important for the overall health of the script and to improve readability.
What revision feels like varies from moment to moment, hour to hour, etc. The tides of this human’s emotions tend to rise and fall and my desire to finish this script is the boat and oars of the revision process. There are moments when I almost literally crash into the words of a sentence, like hitting a wall, and my resolve shatters, the imagery breaks apart, and I’m left staring at a field of pixels on an advanced Lite Brite screen. My inner self gets out of the chair and walks away. So I step back, take a breath, look at the paragraph, reposition myself in the story, re-ignite the fire of imagination, light the scene, and begin prodding and testing again. It is like digging a ditch.
Other times, revision is like an exciting hike through a jungle. My footing is sure. Concepts are clear. I see through the foliage and reach out to grasp rare gems of prose and place them safely in my backpack. Characters breathe, the sun filters through the canopy to warm the ground, and what happens next has me, the writer, leaning into the story in anticipation. I scan a paragraph, sense each sentence as a whole, and see the order in which they ought to be. This one comes before that — there, much better, the flow is now natural. Details are like playthings that feel good in my hands. The scenes are alive, the plot thickens or thins, tension is increased or released. Control is fluid.
The norm is somewhere in between, an average of the extremes. The old adage, “Keep Moving” tends to apply. You have to keep moving the dirt, you have to keep the flow of the story going. Find the blockages, clear them. Find the garbage, remove it. Find the excess, snip it. Add the desirable ingredients. Stir the stew. And all the while, believe. Know that others have learned the craft. Know that there is always more to learn. Know that others traveled the same kind of road. Know there are worthy destinations ahead. Keep moving.
At its best, writing is trance. At its worst, writing is torturous. Revision is the same, but with more effort, more rules to consider, and greater possibility to manage. There is one thing for certain – you have to want to finish it and finish it well. You have to really, really want it.