Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…

bly-editsWhenever I speak about writing and inevitably mention revision, people roll their eyes. Even experienced writers. Even published writers. A few years ago I pitched my book about revision to a series of editors at the Associated Writing Program’s conference; each and every one laughed at me.

Revision is dreaded, universally. Even those like myself who thrive in revision understand the sentiment. Change is hard. Changing the way we see our creations and then changing the creations themselves is especially challenging. But it’s even worse than that. To change the way we see our creations, we ourselves have to change. We have to willingly step away, shift positions and perspective, and look again. Ugh!

Revision is hard because it’s hard on the ego. Our egos grow attached to one way of seeing the world. When we consider detaching ourselves from that single perspective to look around for alternatives, the ego panics. “What?! It’s my way or the highway!” it says. Revision asks of us humility and powerful curiosity. There are always multiple ways to look at an object or problem or story. Our willingness to open our hearts to this multiplicity determines our capacity for change.

I recently learned a new way to understand the word “respect.” The roots are the same as “revise”—to see again. The surprising similarity between these words shines a fresh light on revision: When we see something anew, we come to respect it. Each new perspective, each layer of understanding, deepens our regard. Seen in this light, revision is the most respectful approach to our writing—and to much else in our days. Step back. Change perspective. See it through others’ eyes. Change your eyes, and you’ll change the world.  –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Every second Tuesday, a small group of emerging Twin Cities writers gathers to discuss the writer’s role and purpose in the wider world.  Join the thoughtful people of The Book Binders’ Salon for their second public reading, Tuesday, December 6th, from 7-9 at 2615 Park Ave. S., Minneapolis.  More information here.

Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality’s last Spiritual Memoir drop-in session of 2016 will be next Friday, December 9th, 1:30-3:30.  We’ll play with symbols and metaphors in our memories.



October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

3 thoughts on “Seeing Again—and Again, and Again…”

  1. How timely this piece on revision; I’m now revising my little memoir. It’s humbling to realize and admit that my current first chapter is a mistake. It’s too much like a lecture or sermon, and off-putting. It has to go. And a lot of other, smaller changes ought to be made too, I realize. Pretty ego-deflating, alright.

  2. Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew

    Thanks for this, Ed. It’s ego-deflating, yes, but once it’s done doesn’t the piece feel cleaner? More itself and less you? There’s something deeply satisfying about this process…

    1. I think, Elizabeth, that in the first edition (which is the only edition in print now), there was too much Ed-the-legal-brief-writer. I put too much in the first chapter. Why did I do that? I have been asking myself since reading your response. Because in writing legal briefs, one gets to the point immediately, and that sort of writing was still very much with me even though I am retired.

      (I remember one federal judge saying that he would read only the first 15 pages of any brief submitted to him; he would ignore the remaining 35 pages! Other judges have said something similar: whatever you’ve got to say, spit it out immediately.)

      So, yes, the revision (to be published next month probably) is more itself. It flows, or unfolds, more naturally—slowly, step by step.

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