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At this point it's been AGES since twitter-people were talking about this but whatever, I'm still gonna talk about it. (Also, someone on my tumblr dash was asking about revisions, which kicked me back into thinking about it.)

So. Revisions. A lot of common advice about revising comes from a specific emotional experience of the revising process, ringed around with caveats sometimes but solidified into cultural touchstones that reify a particular emotional landscape. All of these must work for some people, or they wouldn't have come into usage, but none of them work for everyone—case in point, they don't represent my experience. But we have this idea that these are The Right (Easy) Way To Put Things, and that makes it seem like it's the Only Way To Go.

Here are some of those cultural touchstones of revising:

Take "Kill your darlings." It implies brutality, pushing past caring, doing the best thing for the story even if it's hard. But "doing the best thing for the story you want to tell, even if it's hard," doesn't have to be violent. You could frame the same thing—take out the lines you love if they aren't contributing to the story—as looking at the forest, not the trees; as focusing on the big picture; as lots of other things.

Take the idea of "tearing everything apart and starting over." Think instead about throwing clay on a wheel. I have not done this since I was much younger but according to my memories of it: if you are trying to make a specific thing, and it doesn't work, sure, you push it down into a lump again. Sometimes you put the clay aside and start with fresh clay, working toward the same goal. But reworking clay, to get at the same structure or shape you were trying for the first time, bears a very different emotional weight from "if it's not working, just tear your story apart!"

Take the inner editor. NaNoWriMo (and plenty of other people) tell us to "turn off our inner editors" for the first draft—implying that then you can let them out for the second draft. It is sometimes possible to just type and not think about it. My favorite (least favorite) of the things I've done this with is the "novel" I wrote in 24 hours for NaNoWriDay when I was in high school. It is about spoons carved out of cheese, road trips, and a performance of the musical CATS. It is completely and utterly awful and I am glad it got lost somewhere on a hard drive years ago, because I am never ever going to show it to anyone. Ever.

....okay, tangent. Anyway. Inner editors! The idea that, emotionally, you can and should separate out the part of your brain that critiques stuff as you write it...is an interesting one but in the realm of wish-fulfillment fantasy for me. It sucks to be writing something and have your brain telling you it's terrible. But for me, that's not an inner editor; that's an inner troll, the youtube comments section of the brain. The youtube comments section of the brain is pretty much never helpful—in drafting or revising. The bit of your brain that says "This description isn't working, let's come back to that later" is, for me, not really turn-off-able and is also somewhat helpful. I'm partway through drafting a novel first draft right now and I have lots of piles of Stuff I'm Gonna Fix Later.

But if I treat that part of my brain as Inner Editor Do Not Touch, Ignore, then when I go back and look at the first draft I'm probably either going to fall over under the weight of noticing all the terrible stuff all at once, oh my God, so much, or...my brain's going to be in the habit of ignoring the terrible stuff and will continue to not notice it. Both of which don't work for me.

Take the phrasing that you have to "develop a thick skin" for critiques. "Don't take it personally!" is another of these. The secret is that for many, maybe most, writers it is impossible to not take it personally. Stories are your babies except better, I mean, I'm never having actual babies, that would be far too much responsibility, what? (Practice does help. It doesn't make perfect. Practice getting short story critique and rejections kind of carries over to novel critiques and rejections but not really.)

As far as I can tell, this means, don't vocalize your first automatic defensive reactions about what people say about your story—to the people who are saying things about your story. This is because they are doing you a favor by taking the time to read your work and think about it and tell you what they think, but (unless you have that kind of relationship) they did not sign up for also helping you deal with your emotions about revising. (See also that Night Vale quote: it is not Monday's fault you are emotionally unprepared for your professional life. You can complain to your friends about this lack of emotional preparation—it is arguably impossible to be prepared—but don't blame Monday for its opinions about your short story! Er.)

...but that says nothing about what your personal internal emotional life has to be.

Putting that all together? I think we need a change in language. Because the way that I revise stories is, emotionally, more like carving stone (polishing down to the story I want to tell) or re-throwing clay (shaping and re-shaping a story until it comes out just right) than it is any of those phrases above.

With the difference—of course—that whenever I finish a draft (whenever I've finished going around the sculpture taking bits off, whenever I've shaped the clay again) I have a deep-seated emotional need to get it somewhere that is Not Mine. Otherwise I get antsy, and sometimes start fiddling with it again, but that's a bad idea. That impulse to throw it somewhere Not Mine is the indication that I'm done with it for now, so I send it to a friend or a reader or two (depending on what stage of revisions I'm at) (readers are also friends, I'm speaking more of what I request from them—this is a thing I wrote vs. I want comments vs. please critique this thoroughly).

If I didn't have that emotional response, I'd probably fiddle with it forever, and I think that would be a bad thing. It's usually an indication that I've fixed what I can fix, and that I need a new perspective now. But it manifests in me as a desire to throw it as far away from myself as possible, a desire for it to exist somewhere off of my laptop.

Emotions are important. Sometimes they're telling us things that we don't or can't understand logically (or acknowledge consciously). So I wish that the language around revising wasn't organized to deny any emotions except the approved, significantly violent ones.

But we can't just change the language to what works for me. We need to acknowledge the variety of Things That Work for different people and also different projects (my experiences of revising novels and short stories are different from each other too). Unfortunately, there's no snappy way to summarize all that.
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