Any discussion of revision points us to a hidden, tender intersection between craft and the human heart. The wisest words about writing I’ve ever encountered come from an introduction by Robert Frost to a 1938 volume of his collected works. “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” A writer’s willingness to be transformed by the process is the foundation of effective writing. If we are unwilling to be moved, there’s no way our readers will be moved. Our searching and discoveries embed themselves in the text; they are the necessary ingredient for revelation. Neither genius nor skill can substitute.
This is why we must not just write what we know, as the old writing maxim advises, but also write toward the unknown. The unknown is too vast to conquer in one draft. To write in a way that moves others, writers must repeatedly delve into mystery, risking tears and surprise throughout multiple revisions. There’s a direct link between the sustained openness of a writer’s heart and the creation of enduring literature.
Openness to transformation is also essential to nurturing our love affair with writing. Despite our resistance, despite (or because of) all our labor, personal transformation brings us great and lasting pleasure, as does the evolution of our projects. We come most alive when we participate in the transformation of ourselves and our world.
- from Living Revision by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew