With the dubious legacy of the Carver/Lish revisions, I find it calming to return to Fitzgerald’s “boats”:
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
And I think of this as not only a metaphor for Fitzgerald’s characters but for the revision process itself. As writers, the temptation is to see a well written sentence, passage, or chapter as done, as a finished product in of itself. Our natural inclination towards self-satisfaction—we’re artists, after all—pushes us away from the revision that the story itself demands, but if we are aware of this and keep precision firmly in mind, we “beat on” anyway.
This, by the way, is precisely why I find the physical records of a writer’s work to be so essential for any examination of the craft, and I worry that, with the move away from paper, future writers may not have the type of notes and distinct drafts that lend themselves to study.
So I’d like to offer this up for discussion in the comment boards. Can you offer an example from your favorite writers that can help illustrate the mysterious, meticulous, ridiculous nature of revision? If you are a writer, how much of a record of your process do you keep?
I believe this is a discussion worth having. How about you?