Lately and pretty much always, I’ve been putting in words and taking them out of my manuscript. I used to have a fantasy that one day I’d get the hang of this, and put in the right words the first time. Now I take the rhythm of type-delete-type for granted. Starting out writing badly is kind of the point. There’s a lot of scatter before sentences. Words like to free flow before lining up, and we have to stir up stuff we get to explore. No matter how experienced a potter is, she always has to get her hands dirty.
Good writing means dealing with both the known and the unknown. We become adept at balancing routines, rituals, and breaking away, just as we do with holiday fanfare or hush. While making favorite dishes, it’s hard to resist a few experiments. When the food doesn’t come out the way it looked in the magazine picture, or just isn’t particularly tasty, rather than stage hopefully-small fits in the kitchen, we shrug or laugh, take our particular form of forgiveness, and move on. There’s always the turkey and mashed potatoes. We step forward, we make mistakes, we try again.
Why should writing be different? We attempt a poem, and when it doesn’t meet the pretty picture we envisioned, well, we give it some more time or come in from a new angle. Even if the theme of the work is serious, I try to take breaks from a somber tone, to keep from taking my own self too seriously, to let my shoulders insist this is Labor. If I’m alone in the house, or I should say just with understanding pets, I sometimes stand up and do a jumping jack or two. Whistle or whoop. Then get back to it, in a different state of mind.
Step by step, I edge toward revision, which is not the time to bring in the brooms, but to stir up a bigger mess. Revision means going back to dredge through what we first came up with. Kicking holes while asking new questions, which lead to still more questions, which stage greater messes, demanding we again haul out the trash and finally tidy. Or is it truly done? Can anyone really tell?