Revision Obsessions

word jumble


The new Clare story–Life Right Now–is the shortest of the bunch, yet it took two months to write. I have three slightly different versions on my desktop, each representing several print-outs scrawled with edits, major and tiny. I put it up Sunday and have already fiddled with it again.

All the Clare stories are obsessively revised–even after I post them. I know this is the worse, most unprofessional, thing to do in web publishing and it doesn’t let me off the hook that I obsessively rewrite whatever I do–including emails and casual notes. (This particular blog posting is in its four rendition.) After all the time spent in drafts, the Clare narrative and character development are right. But once they’re up I start catching spelling and grammar errors that slipped through and scream more horrifying on-line then in print. That starts me fussing with individual words or descriptions. I change a verb to make it more active and untangle weird sentence structures. I take out a line of dialog that is tripping up the pacing. Maybe I change the way Clare looks and act, or clarify her friend’s thinking about what’s happening to her to make it a little more sharper.

Whatever it is, I realize I’m tinkering with them in a very public arena that I wouldn’t do in print, if only because I know I can. It’s the ease at which these changes can be made. I feel anonymous enough to take them down, then put them up again, since I’m convinced that no one is paying much attention to them, anyway. The site, itself, plays into it. The Clare stories are serious work for me but I’m using their current venue as a workshop. That doesn’t do the site much justice but I feel it allows me space and time to get them right until I figure out a way to push them truly out into the world.

Wait, this is hogwash: If I am so serious about Clare, the mistakes weaken the experience of reading them. They are embarrassing. They make me cringe. I fault myself for being unprofessional. I can’t even blame the fact that I am profoundly dyslexic, which makes grammar rules, not to mention spelling, a life long challenge.

The habit of obsessive revision won’t budge much. It’s my process of writing. What should happen is to find a way to improve proofing and editing or, at the very least seek out a good pair of eyes (help!). Then, when they are about as perfect as possible, I need to let go and find them somewhere to live.

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pat willard

Grew up in Philadelphia. Live in Brooklyn. Written four books best described as about memory and cultural history, food and some pretty good recipes. Works in progress may be viewed at

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