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I am in the midst of revising a book I published before it was ready. I wanted my extremely old mother to see it and I rushed its completion. No matter. Those who read it in print gave me all the feedback I need to return to the project. Then I met an editor from a prominent publishing house over the summer who gave me even more encouragement to make the book longer and darker. I arrived at the halfway point yesterday—30,000 words—and I’m taking a couple of days off before continuing. I’ll visit a couple of museums, do a lot of reading, relax, and not think about the book for a few days. Or think about it in my dreams. My goal is to finish another draft by the end of the year. I may make it, I may not make it. I hope my back holds out because sitting for hours is not good for my back. I get up a lot, stretch a lot, wash the dishes, go for walks, swim, stand up, and eat my lunch standing up. When I teach, I usually stand up. Too much sitting during the day. I think I saw a picture of Philip Roth writing at his writing table. The table was like a speaker’s podium and he was writing standing up. What a great idea.

So, how is the revision going? I’m adding layers of plot, texture, and detail. I’ve introduced a new narrator which has shifted the story in unexpected ways. That’s exciting but it is also challenging. And that’s what revision is: a re-visioning. We have to be open to the unexpected and tolerant of the changes they imply, as flexible as bamboo. This is not always easy. As in life, we hang on to things that aren’t working; it’s hard to let go. As words spill out of us, they embed in our neural pathways, like a melody, and it’s difficult to dislodge them. But we have to.

Sometimes it’s helpful to break writing and life routines to get the re-visioning into gear. Or to read passages aloud to writer friends, or to go for a run. Or to take a break and just relax, garden. I think that Margaret Atwood taught a class once at Columbia called, “What Writers Do When They Are Not Writing.” Writers have written books about what they do when they are not physically writing. The truth is, we are always writing and we are always writers even when we have to strip down or discard something we have worked on for weeks, months, or years, and begin again.
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