Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 10, 2013

Building and Wrecking Walls of Words

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?




  1. Sounds terrifying and exhilarating all in one breath!

    • It sounds like you might have been there!

      • Yup, just recently. And going right back there again!

  2. Yes, is it ever really done? Letting things sit a day, week, month, year(s) allows for a load of revisions. It’s rare that I trust something is truly done.

    • You’re right, the more time we let things sit, the more shows up that we can’t believe we gave a pass to before. But sometimes we just have to say that word: done. And make room for whatever’s next. It’s hard.

  3. >>revision, which is not the time to bring in the brooms, but to stir up a bigger mess.<<

    So true! I'm still in my writer's cave, which is already mess enough, but I know there's plenty more mess ahead. Trying hard not to pay too much attention to the cracked eggs and flour on the floor though – or even the broken bowls…

    • You make such beauty from the spilled flour and cracked bowls. Thanks for stopping to wave from the writer’s cave. Sending you love there.

  4. I like revision although it can be hard work, and usually prefer it to writing the first draft.

    • I like those first ideas, but starting to polish, and getting glimmers of what we want others to see, yes, that is fun!

  5. Revision means going back to dredge through what we first came up with.
    I zoomed in on this – sometimes I think that revision is going back to the original Eureka, the reason we sat down and started writing madly in the first place. I always feel refocused when I read your posts, Jeannine. Merci!

    • Tara, actually I think your idea of revision is equally true. It’s a big process, with room for plenty of strategies! I think it’s always useful to ask, multiple times in the process, Now why did I want to write this? What’s my main focus? It’s one way to wiggle out of the mayhem. Whatever works!

  6. As I get older, I realize nothing is ever done. I’m happy enough when I reach a point of “that’ll do.” Thank you, as always Jeannine, for sharing your thoughtful observations.

    • I agree, “that’ll do” is a good phrase to carry around, and yes, I seem to carry that one more lightly with age. Thank you!

  7. Revision is reassembling the puzzle to make a similar, but more defined picture.

    • Wonderful, Donna! (and I’m sorry my wordpress host is being so inhospitable. Thank you for your persistence!) Onward to more defined pictures!

  8. Perfect post for me, since I’m really elbow-deep in revision right now. I will admit, though, that one of the best parts of this post is imagining you standing up from a poem about astronomy, giving a little stretch, and letting out a yawp! That is my smile this morning!

    So, I’ll return to this post to give myself new perspectives as I wade through my own messy work. Or I’ll whoop. That would do it, too!

    • Oh these tricks of the trade! It’s a good morning to whoop. Sending creative thoughts to your elbows plunked in revision!

  9. […] From author Jeannine Atkins‘s post “Building and Wrecking Walls of Words”: […]

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