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Approach your revisions lovingly

Guest Blogger: Ariel Benjamin

“Be a loving reviser.”—The first string of words that got me out of bed this morning.

When it comes to revising, writers hear something like this, “you must write freely, but become a tough critic when you edit.” Writers! You must be two different people. One is something like a hippie, and the other an army veteran grandpa. I’ve tried this method many times and my poor pieces end up a confused jumble of “what went wrong?” Workshops can be daunting to an impressionable college student. Come revising season I drowned in critiques and flushed myself down the wrong river. By time I was done I couldn’t recognize my work anymore. I’d let a false voice in my head try to make my work better.

I’ve written many broken and young sounding stories before. Now imagine stumbling upon your first speculative fiction that could potentially define you as a writer, that has an ending and a purpose, but then the revision sinkhole comes to drag you back to the underworld. I haven’t touched my work in a good month or two.

AAAAH!

Revise lovingly. Love is merciful and breeds attachment. So people think it incapable of doing what needs to be done. But no one can demonstrate the vastness of true love like God. God has shown us in the Bible that he punishes. He redirects in what sometimes feels like a painful way. He sent his holy son into man to be tortured by the human race in order to embody sin.

Then he conquered sin.

Separating into different people or different identities to make the changes you need is false. Jesus always said, my father and I are one. The system could not work cut from two completely alien cloths. Love is a wide array of things because it does whatever it must to get to the best goal. In God’s case, he imagined a loving and impenetrable relationship with his dear creations and did whatever he had to get there. My goal is to free individuals locked down by self-hate, confusion, or abandonment through storytelling. Thinking about my audience makes me stop cowering and move on. And that’s where I feel the power in becoming a loving reviser.

A writer cannot become a harsh, dead-faced critic. You would become nothing.

Though some changes feel harsh, they do not require you to change. Revising with “love,” I relentlessly preserve the integrity of my characters. I learn about them and what they mean all over again. I change diction and syntax not for grandeur but for the understanding of my reader. When I leave something just as it is, that’s because I saw “that it was good.”

Harsh Critic, your alter ego, forces you into erasing or changing things with anxiety. It is not good. Those edits made me feel like I was losing pieces of myself. A God-like reviser holds a creation in their hands that is theirs and only theirs, and only they can know what the best goal is. Love, with all its ups and downs and punishments and redemptions, makes a story better.

Ariel Benjamin is a fiction and poetry writer studying Creative Writing and Spanish at Vanderbilt University.

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2 comments on “Approach your revisions lovingly

  1. “By time I was done I couldn’t recognize my work anymore.”

    There is waaaaaaay too much insistence today upon massive, extensive revision. The oft-quoted dictum “First draft is crap” has become one of the “commandments” for some reason. We all need to understand this truth: all writing is, in the end, subjective. Sometimes that first draft, written in the fire of creative mood, can capture the essence of what an author wants to say and needs to be left alone. Of course, this sentence may need a tweak or this word may not be as apt as another — but this idea that whatever first comes out must ALWAYS (caps for emphasis and a little bit of yelling :)) be ravaged by crit groups because it’s crap must be discarded. Sometimes that first draft, in the main, gets it right. My editor once asked me to write an entirely new chapter — which I did — and he invoked only two minor suggestions for improvement. In two sentences. The rest left him stunned. I credit that to Almighty God getting me in the right mood and then giving me His words. Revisions are alway necessary, and must be lovingly applied. but let’s silence that harsh inner voice, or any voice, that robs us of who we are and of what WE write.

  2. This sums it up for me…”I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Truman Capote

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