Friday, July 6, 2012
Scratching the Bones – Writing and Revision
Being brought up with a strong work ethic, my roots sometimes ache when I say I have chosen to be a writer as a vocation. A dull pain nags—I’m not producing an income, therefore I’m not productive. But creative writing is a gift. Art in any form is a product of creating. Cultivating words on the blank page is my expression of love for the gift of my creation, allowing me to share in the excitement of forming something from nothing. Of course nothing includes past knowledge from reading, teaching, training, or the personal baggage a writer is willing to address. The white page transforms into something other than what it was before we colored it with our life experiences.
Prose, for me, must have a purpose, a theme, not necessarily didactic, but it must satisfy my ‘productive’ requisite that causes the reader to think about an issue. Poetry, however, is like the wind that pops my creative sail. Starting not with a theme, but feelings, poetry is more personal, more spiritual. Poems are moments caught like a snapshot in words—each person sees something different in the picture. Ideally a poem should touch the reader, but the feelings generated depend on the reader’s experience, not the emotions conjured by circumstances the writer provides, as in details of a story. For the reader to connect, the poet must become the critic, changing her personal abstract passions into pictures of feelings. In this process the critic/poet releases her work, allowing the reader freedom to absorb it into their experience.
Creative writing, although inspired, is also a process. Just as the reader perceives something fresh from a different vantage point, the writer too must be open to change, new insights in her work. The process of revision after the inspiration demonstrates the craft of a writer. It is in the revision process that the work becomes shareable, the personal inspiration becomes universal. True revision can only come with time. When the ink is dry, and the page is a little foreign the writer can read her work from a different place in life. After the labor pains are forgotten and the baby can sit-up and look at the writer she can see with fresh eyes to be objective and analyze the work without the sentimentality of the moment.
It is impossible to critique one’s own work without good help. We can write and take time to be objective, but only an outside source can fill the subjective blanks. The poet/critic must be strong in her original inspiration to accept criticism and try variations. The original is never lost, but if a work is to be universal the writer must realize how it is perceived by others. Some works of creation will always be mine, poor and needy, a crying, angry child—not meted out for public viewing.
I like to think of my writing like the great Methodist preacher, John Wesley said about faith; it is a process of “becoming.” The revision process is the work part of writing, but it is in this becoming process of revision that my work goes from raw feelings to a universal space to be shared.