Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Revision Hubris

correcting-1351629_1920Okay, I’ve been writing for longer than I care to remember, but I still can convince myself (arrogant? yes!) that I don’t need feedback from other writers.  This attitude tends to take over when I’ve spent considerable time working on something, as I had with a memoir I’ve written.  After all, it’s my story I’m telling.  How could someone else help me to improve it?  I don’t usually take this approach to fiction I’ve created; I assume it can be made better.  But I had persuaded myself that this material was ready to be published.

When I recently sent parts of it to my on-line critique group (I’ve only met a couple of these lovely people face-to-face since we started working together several years ago), I didn’t expect I’d need to change much.  (Have you ever heard that voice before?  This draft is perfect as is?)  So when one of the group members commented that it seemed to be an early draft, I felt offended.  I’d been working on this collection for some time, and it had gone through several revisions.  The remark sounded patronizing to me, like one-upmanship.  Then the others in the group began pointing out things that I hadn’t thought about or hadn’t gone far enough with.  I had a defense against all of their suggestions.  Sound familiar?

Fortunately, after a few days, my senior inner editor gained control and suggested I review the emails I’d received.  I took the advice and looked over the draft with the recommendations in mind.  Some I didn’t act on. (I’m familiar enough with these readers’ perspective that I know which things to ignore.)  But as I began to re-read my piece, line by line, I could see many places that could be improved.  I may not have followed some of my critiquers’ suggestions, but just the act of re-entering the material with a critical eye opened it in ways I hadn’t expected.  And that’s one great value of having expert readers look over our drafts.  As writers (and readers), they were able to notice things I couldn’t because of my myopia.  Their varied perspectives gave me several different angles from which to view what I’d written.  The process is invaluable.

So here I am, humbled once again by how challenging revising can be.  I’m also reminded that even the most experienced writers resist being told their prose can be improved.

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