In my creative writing class this week, we are discussing revision. I’m having them read Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” and The New Yorker article titled “Rough Crossings” about Carver and Gordon Lish’s troubled but significant writer/editor relationship.
In having my students read both texts, I hope for them to gain a sense of how much editing must occur before a work of literature emerges in its final, publishable form. I want them to understand that, unlike Athena from Zeus’s skull, their stories don’t spring from their brains fully formed and fall to the page ready to go—a romantic notion, I’m afraid, many teenagers (and adults) hold on to far longer than they should.
Of course, revision has been on my mind a lot recently. By the new year, I will have completed another intensive revision of my novel. At this point, I’m so close to it—my nose inches from the paper—that I have a hard time really knowing if my revision has been successful. I find this lack of perspective maddening, because only weeks or months away from my manuscript can provide the distance that will allow me to see whether or not I’ve been successful. But I can’t take this time. My relationship with this story has to be constantly evolving, it seems, or it will become burdensome. I must push through to the end, seeing only a few feet before my face, or I’ll lose momentum.
So, I crave perspective, but have little way of achieving it at the moment. I’m looking forward to the day (oh let it be so!) that I’ll be able to have a relationship with a good editor. Of course, I want to avoid the horrible emotional tangle of Carver and Lish’s relationship—The New Yorker article seems to serve as a sort of warning—but I can’t help but yearn for a fresh perspective on my work.