Lately I’ve been feeling like a revision evangelical. The majority of my teaching time is spent converting beginning and intermediate writers into revisers—that is, into writers who labor beyond their rough drafts into more and more mature versions, taking their creative ideas through the paces of the writing process until they become polished work. Learning to revise is a huge hurdle to overcome. Most beginning writers never get past the generating stage because revision is too demanding. And most writing teachers shy away from teaching the revision process, I suspect because creating writing prompts is easier than helping writers to jettison egos, generate new narrative structures, and discover unifying themes.
Why, exactly, am I hung up on revision? I spend the vast bulk of my own writing time revising and feel revision needs corresponding air-time in the classroom. I’ve grown weary of reading first drafts, no matter how inspired, because first drafts always fail to explore the full complexity of a subject. Mostly, however, I’m interested in how our small, personal stories can become windows onto a universal story, the story of being human. Rough drafts of memoirs are invariably self-centered, and rightly so—authors need space to muck around in the stuff of their lives before they can discover anything truthful or timeless. Revision is essentially the process of digging under and around and within our stories so we can present them in the most thorough, honest light. I want to bring people, both writers and readers, to this light.
Lest you haven’t heard enough from this bully pulpit, I’d suggest this as the main reason you should consider revising your work: If you want the heart of your experience to connect, through language, to the heart of your readers, you must look beyond the first version of your story. You must ‘see it again’. Hearts are hidden deep in the body, and a first draft is always skin-deep.
–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew