In this photo of my writing space, my cat apparently decided I would have to do without some of my notes—at least until he decided to move to another window.
(This isn’t normally the way I write, but I’ve learned over the years not to attempt to move a stubborn cat. I’ve got the scratches to prove it.)
On this particular day, I was working on a revision, and this is, in fact, what most of my writing days are like: They’re revising days.
For me, revision is the best part of the writing process, which many writers find a little insane (I mean, who likes revision?). But I always find it so much better than facing the blank page. This is why I so enjoy this little corner desk: It’s where I go after I’ve gotten a couple of pages typed up, or even a couple of lines; it’s where I take a red pen to my work, and it’s where the real writing begins.
I never know how many drafts it a story is going to take—but this is part of the fun. In Forgetting English, the range is vast: “The Ecstatic Cry” was written in nine drafts; “Rest of World” in eighteen; and “Lost Art” in more than forty. The title story actually began as a novel before I whittled it down to a novella and then, finally, a short story. Sometimes it takes this long to find the story, but the journey itself is always the best part.
I’ve discovered that I like to tackle a writing project from a revision angle because it feels less like a beginning than like a middle (and therefore closer to the end!). And I’m never bothered by the fact that my average story doesn’t get to the end before about twenty drafts. For me, a “draft” isn’t necessarily an entire rewrite but simply anything that’s different: If I change one phrase in a story, that piece moves from Draft #14 to Draft #15. There’s something satisfying about going through so many revisions; it means I’ve thought about every part of the story many times over, which any piece of writing requires before we can truly call it finished.
And for any of you writers out there who don’t yet embrace your early drafts, this Psychology Today article will comfort you: It offers a sampling of the much-scribbled-upon first drafts of works by Marcel Proust, John Updike, Shirley Hazzard, and others — and the reminder that all good work takes quite a while to get there.