Revision Series #2: Why Call it Work?

Alternative title: Tidying, Tending, Mending

Why call it work? I know this is a revision series, but it seems to me that what we’re really talking about when we talk about revision is doing the work. We have all of this discourse around the messy first draft and allowing ourselves the freedom to be imperfect, but it’s all so that later on we can put in the work to make it better — perfect and fully realized. 

I’m a bit tired of thinking of it this way, and this exhaustion carries over into my revision itself. The doc feels heavy. The words feel immovable. Every delete button is a sting, ever deleted paragraph a burn, every deleted page? The end of the world. Because it means that more work has to be done to replace it. 

Yikes. Ok. What’s the alternative?

First — what if it isn’t as bad as you think it is? Remember your recon? So we already know that our view of the page as a big, unsalvageable mess is likely false.

What if we take it a step further. Not only is a draft not trash — it’s good. It’s alive. it has captured something — a feeling, a story, an image — into a new place, the written word. There is something so inherently amazing about that. You would have to work so hard to see that as not valuable (and thanks to society, capitalism, perfectionism, we actually get really good at seeing our drafts as not valuable because they don’t yet have monetary value…)

Therefore — our writerly revolution begins by redefining value in creative terms. 

So let’s start at the value of a draft. What do you do with things that you value? You don’t ignore them, or throw them out completely, or see spending time with them as work. You want to be around them. You want them to exist as their best selves. Like a garden, or a favorite piece of clothing, or a home.

What do we do with valuable things? We mend them when they’re broken. We tend them when they have weeds or need nutrients. We tidy them up when we’re about to invite people over.

This is revision’s true form It starts from love and gentleness. It comes from saying to your work, you are so good that you are worth spending time on. More time than I’ve already spent! You are so valuable you are worth becoming your best self. You are worth the time and complications that it takes to get there. 

You are both the creator of valuable things, and their caretaker. You are getting in there to straighten some things out and clean stuff up because you care so deeply about it. So when you sit down to revise, don’t call it work.


This post is part of a series leading up to the start of Finishing School, a Fall intensive class that focuses on finishing, revising, and finalizing creative work. Enrollment closes August 1, 2022.

Published by Marcella Haddad

I write stories about silly people doing brave things, and I draw pictures of creatures that don't exist. I like traveling, nutella, dragons, and redwood trees.

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