Revision Magnifies Inspiration

Every gorgeous sentence, every sparkling idea, is well worth loving. But stay open to the possibility that there’s even more to love on the way. Lasting relationships between yourself and your story and between your reader and the story depend on this openheartedness.

Save a copy of your first draft and nothing you write will be lost. You can always retrieve that stunning sentence. The aha! moment at the end of your rough draft can become the premise of your second draft, and perhaps another aha! will strike you before you reach the revision’s end. If a second awesome sentence comes your way, then your new draft contains two great sentences and two aha’s.  Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote,

“Believe me, in all things labor is necessary—gigantic labor. . . . You evidently confuse the inspiration, that is, the first instantaneous vision, or emotion in the artist’s soul (which is always present), with the work. I, for example, write every scene down at once, just as it first comes to me, and rejoice in it; then I work at it for months and years. I let it inspire me, in that form, more than once (for I love it thus); here I add, there I take away; believe me that the scene always gains by it.”

First drafts don’t have a monopoly on the muse. Inspiration continues through and can be magnified by revision. In fact, revision can be more fun, creative, and insightful than drafting. For me, writing a first draft feels like scraping up clay with a baby spoon. In revision I play with the lump, molding it into a beautiful and effective form.

A spiritual director once told me that the greatest obstacle to an experience of God is a previous experience of God. The trouble with mystical experiences and inspired first drafts is our strong inclination to grow attached.


from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House