Revision, where the piled fragments of a draft shift and reassemble, is my favourite part of writing. It’s where the most substantial changes happen, and a story is overhauled in ways that are surprising even to the writer.
Revision happens after the first draft is done. Word count has been, for the most part, achieved, and a wobbly version of the story has transported from mind to page.
That first draft: think of it as a pile of compost. Kitchen scraps gathered over months or years, dumped in a corner of the yard. A massive, lopsided, mound that demands the question “What the heck is even in there…?”
The job of revision is to see what should stay and what needs to go. Examine the pile and feel for the warmth, where organisms are breaking down and combining matter. There should be things in that pile that weren’t put there intentionally and snuck in on their own: worms, insects, snakes—if you’re on the west coast an excess of banana slugs. Look for the unexpected, the strange alchemical changes in the threads of your project. Take the good things, the interesting bits, the chunks that have life of their own, and work them into the next draft.
Of course there’s always more drafts, and more revision after the first go. Here are some books I find helpful:
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott — one step a time, in both writing and life
Dreyer's English by Benjamin Dreyer — line edits, details
Meander, Spiral, Explode by Jane Alison — takes a unique look at approaches to structure and design in narrative
Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer — sometimes creativity needs a push into the ridiculous; these exercises work for any genre of writing.
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Erin Frances Fisher (MFA UVic, AVCM pedagogy/performance) is a writer and musician in Victoria, BC. Her short story collection THAT TINY LIFE was published by House of Anansi Press, March 2018, was a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize at the 2019 BC Book Prizes, and runner-up for the 2018 Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Her stories have appeared in Granta, The Malahat Review, PRISM international, Riddle Fence, and Little Fiction. She is the 2014 RBC Writer’s Trust Bronwen Wallace Emerging Writers recipient. Erin teaches piano at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, and is a sometimes sessional writing instructor at the University of Victoria.