On Revision: What do you do when you’ve laid a bad egg?

This is the fourth post in a series of posts on writing—my journey as a writer, what writing means to me, and what I’m working on now. To see other posts, check here.

“The only kind of writing is rewriting.” —Ernest Hemingway

If there’s one quote that incites my writer’s guilt complex, it’s this idea that writing is rewriting.

(Or so we’re told.) Most of us know that a rough draft is just that—rough, not to be seen by other eyes until it’s been cleaned up. No one ever stops at the rough draft, or even the “first draft”. As young writers, we’re told that the best way to become a better writer—aside from just writing more, every day if possible—is to keep revising our own material.

It’s no secret that I hate revisions.

I hate them with a fiery passion, mostly because I’ve never figured out how to successfully revise without wanting to light myself on fire in the process. Revising signals Depression Brain to lump on a healthy dose of Self-Doubt in the extreme. Once I reach that state, I’m not motivated to work on the story whatsoever. I usually ignore it for a couple of days, which only makes me feel more guilty for not writing, before I admit that I’m just not feeling the story anymore.

I’ve done this process of halfway revising, only to ultimately give up, more times than I can count. Each time, I’m stunted for weeks or even months afterward. Each time, I feel more and more like a fake writer. After all, if I was a Real Writer, I’d be able to revise my own stories, right?

I “rescued” this book from being sent back to the publisher and I’m so glad I did.

Then I read Mark Edmundson’s Why Write, a long-form essay in which he discusses the good, the bad, and the ugly of writing. For the first time in my life, I read someone who countered the idea that revision is absolutely, always necessary. There are times, Edmundson argues, when the best thing to do with a piece of writing is let it go.

Sometimes the best thing to do when you’ve laid a bad egg is simply to walk away from the nest. Get gone. Throw the darned thing out and start something new. You can advance by leaping from endeavor to endeavor, as well as by trying to repair the broken-down model that’s on blocks in the driveway.

When I first read this passage, I’m pretty sure tears came to my eyes. For the first time, I felt completely and totally okay with who I was as a writer—a person who needed to let go and move forward.

The fact of the matter is, revision is an important skill to have as a writer. Nothing comes out perfect the first time, no matter how long you’ve been writing. Revision is a skill I do want to acquire, eventually.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge my relative age as a writer. I talk like I’ve been writing for 15 years, and I have, but that’s small potatoes compared to most successful, bestselling authors. I have a long ways to go before I’m writing at that level. I have decades ahead of me when it comes to growing as a writer.

The best way for me to grow as a writer isn’t necessarily as simple as I once thought.

Sure, I could invest years of my life in an attempt to revise the same few novels I’ve had under my belt so far. Or, alternatively, I could let go and see what comes next.

Maybe there isn’t anything shameful about having trunk novels; maybe they’re just sign posts along the way of my growth as a writer. Maybe it’s true that any writing is a good thing as long as it’s moving me forward. Maybe my trunk novels don’t have to define who I will become, but rather can represent a small part of who I was at one point in time.

Maybe the best thing to do when you’ve laid a bad egg is let it go.

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How do you feel about revisions? Got any tricks to share? Want to be writing buddies? Let’s chat in the comments!

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