I’m delighted to introduce today’s Guest Author: Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew. Elizabeth is the author of Writing the Sacred Journey, Swinging on the Garden Gate, and On the Threshold: Home, Holiness, and Hardwood. I’ll give the rest of Elizabeth’s bio after she’s charmed you with the post (it’ll mean more to you then).
I just came across some great wisdom: “Resistance always comes from the desire to not see. When we feel resistance in any form, it’s because we haven’t fully committed to seeing what’s true.” Thanks, Rosanne! You’ve put your finger on why we writers resist revision so fiercely.
The truth is multifaceted. It usually sits smack in the middle of a paradox. When you peel away the top layer of a truth—that is, when you look below the facts—you find layer upon layer of emotional resonance. The only way to find the truth is to look again…and again, and again.
This is why authors claim that writing IS revision: To see the truth in our stories, we must revisit them.
Nonetheless, all writers to varying degrees resist revision. Beginning writers resist revision with special vehemence; after all, they’ve overcome their resistance to writing an initial draft, they’ve gotten their butt in the chair, they’ve sweat blood, they’ve made glorious discoveries, and they’ve arrived! Of course the ego latches on to that initial version of the story. We love an easy truth.
Intermediate writers and writers with several drafts under our belts resist revision because, dang-it-all, we’ve already done so much work! The bit of complexity those first revisions add to a draft bolster our sense of accomplishment. We want the satisfaction of completion. Or, truth be told, we don’t want to see our work’s remaining flaws.
Despite being obnoxiously enthusiastic about revision, I groan at the thought of my upcoming conversation with my agent when she will suggest revising my novel—for the fourth time since we signed our contract. And that’s after five years of work on my own. If a kernel of unseen truth is still hiding in that story waiting for me to peel back the film from my eyes, I’m clueless about where to find it. As much as I’ll resist my agent’s suggestions, I’m also grateful for her sharp eyes and willingness to tell me what she sees.
The gift of writing is language’s ability to gather many layers of seeing into one place. Ever read a memoir and wonder how the author possibly remembered all those details? Ever read a brilliant bit of exposition and feel awed by the author’s smarts or skills with language? Most authors are not unduly brilliant or gifted; they’ve simply had the stick-to-it-iveness and the humility to re-see their story. When we read a beautiful work, we gaze through layer upon layer of drafting. The page can hold multiple insights simultaneously and when we are guided by the page, so can we. This layering is what makes literature. The capacity to sit with a manuscript, re-seeing the content and reworking the language, is what makes an author.
The good news is that nothing is more creative than revision. Seeing again is, in my mind, the ultimate creative act because it not only helps our work grow, it helps us grow. Perhaps our resistance has little to do with writing and plenty to do with how we inhabit the world—how willing we are to see what’s true.
And vice-versa: Writing, and especially revising, can facilitate our seeing along with our ability to inhabit our lives fully. With intention, revision can be an opportunity to deepen our experience of being human and our capacity to be truth-tellers.
Feel a little less resistance to revision or at least understand why you’d want to be less resistant? Check out Elizabeth’s Loft class Form and Function: Structure in Creative Nonfiction (starts February 21st). You can find more of Elizabeth’s insight at her blog and her websites www.spiritualmemoir.com or www.elizabethjarrettandrew.com/