I have a confession: I was not a fan of revising my work.
That’s not to say I don’t do it. I do. Any writer, regardless of experience level, needs revision. As one of my writing advisors said — the novel begins in revision.
I was not a fan of revision because I didn’t know how to do it. I can edit, certainly, and there are great tools that help with grammar and mechanics. But revision isn’t about where the comma goes or whether the use of the possessive is correct (it usually isn’t).
No one knows how to revise because there is no one way to do it. There is no checklist that tells you what to look for and check. That’s because, like the craft of writing revision is a process. It evolves and ebbs and flows and stalemates like any other process. The writer has to feel their way through it, mostly blind, until the end, which can come later rather than sooner and could end in the devastating realization that the piece was never any good, to begin with.
Even in MFA programs, the emphasis tends to be on the creation of the work and THAT process. It’s the workshops that provide, hopefully, helpful fresh eyes on the work and a directive on what to change or “fix”. But even that’s in service to finding out what the story or poem or essay is truly about; it’s never in service of a final project that pushes the piece toward thematically or guides it to what it wants to be.
That’s because I ask myself this one question about my revision:
What am I having a conversation with?
This is a question I’ve asked just about every writer I’ve interviewed in the past. Whether it was my friend or someone from my old podcast (I miss that podcast), that question has always driven some great conversation. Some soul barring conversation. A conversation that serves the art or craft or piece of writing.
And if you know the answer to that question, revision happens. I don’t know how but it does. It makes revision happen without pre-text or focus on the business of writing. It strips away things. For me, when I know the answer to that question, it punches me in the gut. I’m breathless for days. I’m scared of the answer.
Trembling with fright, in fact.
And that’s how I know, my concrete evidence that I am in revision and that process, much like the creation of the work, is going to change me.
Revision is hard because you have to be open to the process of change and not be in control. You’re only goal in revision is finding the answer to the question you didn’t know you had asked.
What are you having a conversation with?
At the end of the question, the first work of that response is where the process begins. That’s when the writing actually begins.
If you enjoyed learning about revision, join me as I teach about the process of revision.
What are you, as a writer, having a deeper conversation with?
This question has the power to guide the direction of your work’s revision. For some writers, revision is a mystery and a pest in the process to a final version. But revision is the writing, it is the creative part that determines what ends up published. It’s during this process that writers learn what they know and don’t know and, most importantly, what they are having a conversation with. This is where the magic actually happens.
In this course, we’ll use the question as a guide to understand and learn more about the revision process for writing prose. We’ll look at what practitioners do and what they think. We’ll also do some exercises to understand our own process of revision, so it becomes as personal as a fingerprint.
This class is not a workshop, however, having and using a piece you’re currently working on may be helpful to you.
Icess Fernandez Rojas is an educator, writer, podcaster, and a former journalist. She is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA program.
Her work has been internationally published in PANK, Queen Mobs Lit Journal, Poetry 24, Rabble Lit, Minerva Rising Literary Journal, and the Feminine Collective’s anthology Notes from Humanity. Her Houston-based story, “Happy Hunting”, was published in the Houston Noir anthology.
Her nonfiction/memoir work has appeared in Dear Hope, NBCNews.com, HuffPost and the Guardian. She is a recipient of the Owl of Minerva Award, a VONA/Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation alum, a Dos Brujas Workshop alum, and a Kimbilio Fellow. She’s currently working on her first novel and finishing her memoir, Problematic.