Writing is hard. Revising is harder. I am currently half way through the first revision of my novel and I have begun to struggle. Some of the early chapters seemed almost perfectly formed, each word, each image exactly as I imagined them to be. Early on, I marveled at how unexpectedly easy the process seemed. I have no such delusions now. I have completely rewritten some of the middle chapters, and still they don’t seem quite right. I go back over them again and again, adjusting, deleting, revising again and again. The end of the process now seems impossibly far away, but still I struggle on. I console myself with the near perfection of those early chapters. I know I have the ability and the will, I just need to keep pushing forward. Or so I tell myself.
Writing has been described as being akin to building sand castles: first you shovel sand into a pile (the first draft), and then you begin to pull away the grains that don’t belong (revision, one grain of sand at a time). Hemingway said the first draft of anything was shit, and there are days when I think this is particularly true of my novel. But what if the second draft is also shit, and the third? Hemingway also said that he wrote one page of masterpiece for every ninety pages of shit (apparently Papa Hemingway enjoyed talking about shit). Then again, Hemingway is said to have thrown his first novel overboard in a fit of rage at how terrible it was.
I have no delusions that my work compares to that of Hemingway, except perhaps the parts that resemble shit. But even as I become bogged down in paragraph after paragraph that just don’t seem to flow, I still believe that I can make this thing work. Every now and then there is a sentence or a phrase that rings true and good. Sometimes entire paragraphs flow out onto the page and when I read them over I think, ‘Yes! This is what I was trying to say.’ And that, such as it is, is the joy of revising: to find that one true sentence and then follow it up with another, and then another.
Writing is hard, but not impossible. It has taken months, but I have finally pulled enough sand away to see the castle underneath. Now if I can just finish that process before the tide returns…