“To be honest, revision isn’t even a path: it’s a management strategy for errors, shortcomings, mistakes, and misgivings. In fact, that’s what all writing is about.”
Adam Soto is teaching a class for the Writers’ League called “Novel and Memoir Revision: Conventions and Experiments” on April 15 at the ACC Highland Campus in Austin, TX. This class will invite writers to consider revision in a new light as well as provide tactics and strategies that writers can utilize in taking their stories to the next level. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.
Adam Soto: That depends, right? If you’re a writer whose goal is to finish something, by all means, push through; bask in the glory of something that has a beginning, middle, and end, then start over. Some of us build like this. For others, revision might become a part of the crafting process–a path to discovery that leads you astray from your initial intentions and surprises you.
Scribe: The class description says that revision is about finding a balance between what an author wants in a piece, and the desires of others. How much, if at all, should a writer expect to compromise in the revision process?
AS: This question highlights an important misconception writers run into, and I plan to attack the problem at the source. When I first started taking workshops I’d try to address every critique the group had and my stories would end up being these muddled versions of themselves and kind of neutral. It’s what happens when you’re being appeasing: you lose yourself. In this class we’re going to talk about how workshop is really about taking on and wearing other people’s perspectives so that you can get better at looking at your own work and the world. Revision notes from others can be looked at as invitations to create explorations, rather than this daunting task.
Scribe: It’s possible to have many different steps in the revising process: revising your own work, workshop classes with other writers, working with an editor, etc. In you opinion, do you think these steps need to occur in a certain order? Are there any signals that writers should look out for to know which type of revision they should pursue?
AS: The order you establish in the question actually feels the most natural. Usually in an MFA program, undergraduate creative writing classes, or other similarly weekly workshop-like scenarios, you’re really struggling to finish the first draft of your submission for workshop, so I think in these cases it’s forgivable to bypass the first step and make yourself really available to the comments made by your community. Otherwise, you have to take some responsibility for your own work before asking someone else to chime in. In doing so, you ensure some familiarity with and conviction about your piece, and have also hopefully reached this point where you’re not just reaching out for validation. With the novel I’ve been working on, I’ve kept to a group of five readers, but with all of the short fiction I’ve published, my wife and I have managed to knock out the necessary revisions before a magazine or journal editor goes through it.
In terms of signals, I think these are the questions you have about your piece. If your question is, “Is it good?” well, these things are subjective, so don’t expect one person’s answer to be consistent with others. But if your question has to do with craft and form, or the nature of grief or joy, seek out the readers or teachers or editors who are worthy of those topics and conversations. Again, revision is an invitation, an opportunity to keep growing not only your story, but yourself.
Scribe: As you mention in the class description, revision work is usually not the most exciting task (it’s pretty safe to say that no writer writes because they love to revise). What one piece of advice would you give to writers that are at the revision phase, and are struggling to find the motivation to push through?
AS: A psychologist friend of mine is particularly fond of a line that goes: The problems you don’t address are the problems you get to keep. There’s a kind of damning matter-of-factness to the statement, and one can only imagine a pleased little smile coming across the speaker’s face at the sentence’s end, but it’s true. And for writers it’s a permission worth taking to heart. The path of revision does not lead to perfection, nor publishing; it doesn’t even lead to completion. To be honest, revision isn’t even a path, it’s a management strategy for errors, shortcomings, mistakes, and misgivings. In fact, that’s what all writing is about. A desperate attempt to cut through the noise and achieve a clear enough signal. Never mind if your signal can be interpreted correctly and lead to the proper response. Your unique strategy for managing your shortcomings as a writer is your style and is made up of what you choose to address and what you choose to ignore or are totally oblivious to. It’s about figuring out what works. Art is the problem no one asks us to solve, but we try anyway. Revision is that test portion to our design. Is our idea going to make it? Does it fly, does it float, does it sit up straight, however wonkily, elegantly, invisibly? So, my advice would be to see revision a little bit differently.
Click here to register for Adam’s class.
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About the Instructor
Adam Soto is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a recipient of the Michener-Copernicus Fellowship. A finalist in Narrative Magazine‘s 2012 30-Below Contest, Soto’s writing also appears or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, fields, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Austin, TX, where he is an assistant editor for American Short Fiction and working on a novel.