Revising my tavern
I've spent the morning revising. It's common advice not to edit a novel at all until it's done, but I cannot do that. Maybe others can, but anything fresh that I write is half-formed, or more likely quarter-formed. An unedited piece is a nothing.
I'll post the excerpt I edited today at the end here to illustrate what I mean, but it's revision that brings shape to a thing. Churning out words is a slow and awkward business for me. I have to be able to step back and look critically at the muddle I've created. I've got to see where it points, and assess which bits have real beauty, which are irredeemable, and which bits I forgot to create at all.
I remember, years ago before I learned how to write, rereading a chapter that had felt electric as I typed the night before. In the light of day, it was misshapen. I felt disgust; I felt I failed.
My great breakthrough as a writer came when I learned to trust myself, not to compose flawless words, but to fix broken ones. I know full well that my prose will be misshapen, and I know I can make it better. I can edit, edit again, edit again, and edit again, and one phrase at a time, I can give my prose shape and strength. Precision.
I spent my morning on 350 words, the start of my current project's sixth chapter. I can't give useful context in any reasonable space, but my protagonist is in a tavern eating stew that an important man bought for him; following the excerpt, he'll meet the man for a drink in the tap room. Here's what I started the morning with:
Having eaten nothing since dawn but some bread and dried venison, he appreciated the stew. It was warm and exceeded the standards of his father’s cooking.
The four tables, simple but sturdy, had four chairs and one candle apiece. Each wick and the hearth burned. More light came from the chandeliers, dangling from the rafters by iron hooks. Their metal arms held long tapers in front of a brightly polished shield, which reflected the light in all directions. Accustomed to eating in their cabin by the light of a single candle they’d dipped themselves, Elnathan appreciated his surroundings, much more than when he’d come with his father. The chair was by no means his grandfather’s Windsor, but it was well-made and comfortable. A bright blue-green mantle surmounted the hearth, with two candlesticks and a basket resting on it. Above, Elnathan saw a printed portrait, maybe a foot and a half in height, of a somewhat older gentleman wearing a high collar, a cravat, and a respectable wig. From his table, Elnathan could not quite read the script beneath the image. He sat near the door to the foyer and heard a constant murmur from the tap room beyond, punctuated with the occasional laugh or exclamation. Charles Williamson sat within, and he expected Elnathan Holm.
When she served the stew, Metcalfe’s wife had told him that the Colonel had taken care of the meal. Considered practically, it was a small gesture, a pence marked to Williamson’s account rather than Farnsworth’s. Yet the chief man in a growing settlement had thought to pay for Elnathan’s meal.
That morning, he had expected to ride a pace behind his father, reach Bath and sell two calves, without incident. He wondered, again, what his father would say, or at least think.
Samuel Holm would have gone to bed. He would have risen early in the morning, purchased the nails and sugar, and returned to his farm as quickly as he was able. He would have exchanged fewer than a dozen words with anyone. He would absolutely not enter a tap room.
I reread that, and I did not like it one bit. There's no forward movement. It starts with stew, then a paragraph later flashes back to explain what happened when the stew arrived. There's a series of descriptions without any sort of flow or unity. It's disjointed. The excerpt speaks to the contrast between Elnathan's present circumstances and his life at home, and between his planned actions and his reserved father, but it's not all there yet.
Here's what a morning of editing yielded:
“The Colonel has taken care of your meal,” Metcalf’s wife said, setting the wooden bowl on his table, “so don’t you trouble about asking for anything you want.”
“I thank thee,” Elnathan responded, and with a matronly smile, she returned to her kitchen. The door she closed was green: though the evening had advanced considerably, the door’s color remained bright across the dining room. Lit candles sat on each of the four simple yet sturdy tables. More illumination radiated from the chandeliers, dangling from the rafters by iron hooks. Their metal arms held long tapers in front of brightly polished shields, which reflected the light in all directions. In his father’s cabin, Elnathan ate meals by the dim glow of a single candle he had dipped himself. Here, sitting in a proper chair and not on a stool, he could see every corner of the room with clarity. Surmounting the burning hearth, a mantle painted to match the door held two more lit candlesticks and a wicker basket. Above, Elnathan saw a printed portrait of maybe a foot and a half in height, depicting a somewhat older man wearing a high collar, a cravat, and a gentleman’s wig. Elnathan could not quite read the script beneath the image from his table. He sat near the door to the foyer and heard a constant murmur from the tap room beyond, punctuated by occasional laughs or exclamations. He tried, unsuccessfully, to discern the voice of Charles Williamson.
Elnathan dipped his spoon into the stew, and he immediately felt the hunger he had denied for many hours. Since dawn, he had eaten nothing but some bread and dried venison in the bateau.
The afternoon in the boat and the stew in his gullet belonged, improbably, to the same day. Elnathan had steered the bateau with his pole as his father bid him, watching the waters he knew so well. They landed on the southern shore with the calves his father wished to sell, and all of that belonged to the time before, to the boy under his father’s eye. Everything since belonged to a man, self-determining and self-reliant, yet one day and one person encompassed all of it. It all belonged to Elnathan Holm.
The stew was delicious and hot. The chief man of a growing settlement had bought it for Elnathan. He knew it was a small gesture, a pence marked to Williamson’s account rather than Farnsworth’s. Still, satisfaction seasoned the broth, and he devoured a second helping when the mistress of the inn refilled his bowl.
Samuel Holm would finish his meal and go to bed. He would rise early in the morning, purchase the nails and sugar, and return to his farm as quickly as he was able. He would exchange fewer than a dozen words with anyone. He would absolutely not enter a tap room.
It's better. It's not done. I don't even know how many more times I'll edit this before I proclaim the novel finished many months from now. But it's closer, and I know I can bring it the rest of the way. I trust myself.
the worst of me
yet still it hurts
to take the stone
and run it across
until they begin
with a brilliant luster
that does not match
my rusty edges.
it is both a requirement and a curse.
As a short form writer, I know that each word is chosen with extreme precision. While at a summer writing retreat, we did an exercise: whatever word count your piece was at, bring it down to 300, then 250, then 150, and so on, switching to increments of 10 and then 5. Once you got to 5 words, or even a single word you were hard pressed to decide the core of your piece. But that's what the exercise was meant to do: cut through the fluff of your story or poem and think of what you were truly trying to convey.
As others have already said, I agree that Prose needs a better editing system. But I also kind of like the blank format, and the vulnerability & trust that quick writing and next-to-no editing provides. My rawest work tends to come out of Prose, mostly because I'm not really censoring myself. Just as I'm about to post this without reading it over once. :)
If you can make it better for the reader then what reason are you left with for not editing your work.
Anyways, if it's my work, I have every right to do whatever I want to do with it whether I want to keep it or change it!
But when it comes to edit someone else's work, I think it shouldn't be done since the work loses its originality this way. A writer's words are his voice! His work is the way he thinks and perceive things. No matter how badly he writes, it's his personal style and freedom. I don't think anyone should change it!!
Why revision a vision
Once revised by another, it becomes invalid. It is no longer coming from there original view. It takes away from the one that created it from their own personal perception.