This advice is given with good intention. After all, the first draft is not easy. You might be organizing your thoughts for the first time, or just proving to yourself that you have something worthwhile to say. So getting those initial words down on paper or up on your screen is an accomplishment that should not be diminished. Even still, we talk about first drafts as they are the most challenging part of the process, and everything after that first draft gets progressively easier. The implication is that the revision process is akin to rearranging words the way you’d rearrange books on a shelf. This simply is not true.
Revision is a multi-stage process that requires both emotional and intellectual labor. As Rachael Cayley points out on her excellent blog Explorations of Style, the first stage of revision is confronting your self-doubt about the value of your writing. Much of this stage of revision is comprised of conquering the mental obstacles you face in writing. It’s in the latter stage of revision that you conquer the technical obstacles of restructuring arguments, refining your prose, and so forth. This is a productive way of looking at the revision process.
Each stage of writing and revision requires a different type of thinking, because you are likely making a different intervention at each step in the process. Nevertheless, we ought to recognize that revision is a stage of writing, not a distinct process. Revision, like writing, is deeply iterative. It’s also the stage where you truly begin to make your work communicable to others. It’s where you respond to criticisms, incorporate feedback, and enter a conversation with real people who are reacting to your work- not just the arguments that you’ve read about. It’s the stage where you stop writing for yourself and by yourself.
So if revising is such an important part of the writing process, why do we give it short thrift? I’ll take up that topic next week on the blog. In the meantime, I’d like to hear from you. How much consideration do you give to revisions? Do you consider the revision process as distinct from the writing process?