The impulse to revise

Things were a little intense at our house the last week or so, since I was reading proofs, and not just any old proofs, but those of my own upcoming novel (This Hidden Thing). Proofs mean the work that’s been sitting in computer files and doublespaced on 81/2 X 11 sheets of paper, has landed on designed pages for a book. Proofs mean it’s close to ready for press. Just this last chance to check things over. A wee bit of room for changes, but not much. Not much at all. The cover design is close to finished too. It’s all rather exciting and scary.

On the page in its as-good-as-permanent form, the work can look strange and unfamiliar. In spite of all the times one’s gone through the manuscript, one suddenly sees what there’s probably too much of and maybe too little of as well. I’m comforted, however, in reading the letters of Flannery O’Connor, to find that a writer as good as she was had experiences along the same line. In a letter Oct. 6, 1959 she wrote a friend:

The proofs [of The Violent Bear It Away] came… and seeing the thing in print very nearly made me sick. It all seemed awful to me. There seemed too much to correct to make correcting anything feasible. I did what I could or could stand to and sent them back…

Well, I’m not trying to scare anyone off my book by confessing and quoting that — I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t want readers, and I hope it’s not a surprise to hear that even at this stage of a book anxieties and vulnerabilities of all kinds manifest themselves. This is probably true for anyone who has to let go of what they’ve done, into the public. But O’Connor also said she thought the first and last sentence of the book were “mighty fine sentences” and that she had cheered herself “meditating on them.” After awhile I relaxed with the proofing process too and decided I would be okay with what was there — except for those changes I’ve pleaded the forbearance of my editor and the publishing team to make, of course! 

But there’s just something unfailing about the impulse to revise, and to revise again. I had to chuckle over the note Flannery O’Connor sent editor Catharine Carver:

I’ve rewritten the last pages so I’ll enclose them as I think they’re an improvement. When the grim reaper comes to get me, he’ll have to give me a few extra hours to revise my last words. No end to this.

I wouldn’t mind some warning from the Reaper too, for the same reason!

Oh, and this revision after the post went up (it’s the great thing about blogging): please forgive the shameless self-promotion!

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NOTE: The launch date of This Hidden Thing (CMU Press) has been set for May 19 at McNally’s in Winnipeg.

9 thoughts on “The impulse to revise

  1. Just returned from our California holiday yesterday and immediately marked your book launch date on my calendar after reading your revision post! Thanks for your honest reflections and for quoting Flannery O’Connor!

  2. I’m sorry I won’t be at your launch. But I will certainly be looking to buy your book. No need to apologize for ‘shameless self-promotion’, I realize I recently used the same line, but now I’m thinking, if we don’t promote and believe in ourselves…who will? Proclaim it from the rooftops Dora…Good for you.

    • Thanks — though actually it was your post that reminded me to add my own “revision” with that particular phrase! Hope that wasn’t unfair use; it seems a pretty universal expression — and condition! By the way, everyone, Colleen recently won 2 awards at the Travel Media Association of Canada awards; see her Mar. 22 blog for links to the winning articles; good stuff.

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