The process of revision or honing, polishing and shaping a work of art is one that often stumps creative people. Where to begin? How to go about making the work stronger, better, truer to itself? Will I ruin it in the process? What to cut, keep, add, change?
Some time ago I published a post on this Creative Sparks blog called “Creating the World We Wish to Inhabit.” That post came about in a surprising way that illustrates something about the mysterious process of creation and revision to allow work of art to blossom. I’ll share that with you here.
This applies whether you are creating a dance piece, a piece of writing or visual art or music or in some other medium.
The Birth of a New Piece
I held a free Write Together! gathering in June of 2020. The purpose of the gathering was to bring people together to use writing as a tool for helping us process the grief, anger and fear arising as a result of all that’s been going on in the world, and also to use our writing to begin to envision and create a more loving world. Words are powerful, after all, and so is gathering together with intention.
I wrote along with the participants, not expecting anything in particular to come from what I was writing, but open to possibilities.
The first prompt I gave was simple, to begin with the words “Right now. . . ” and just let the writing go wherever it wanted to go for five minutes.
As I wrote, I didn’t know whether it might be the start of a new essay or a poem or nothing at all.
One of the key guidelines of freewriting, as Natalie Goldberg says, is that “You are free to write the worst junk in the world.” You agree to suspend judgment in the first draft in order to allow yourself to blow past your inner censors and possibly stumble on something wonderful and surprising. This is wonderfully helpful permission to grant yourself in any art form.
I re-read my little piece more than a month after I wrote it and found that I liked it. So I started considering what it might want to become.
A poem? No, too wordy to be edited down into that. A personal essay? Maybe, but it would need a great deal added and more structure. Then, I had it! Creative Sparks, my blog, is a perfect venue for this soulful, inspiring, short piece, which became the post I mentioned at the start of this one.
Revising for Purpose
I began to revise my piece with that in mind. Knowing that Creative Sparks blog is meant to be a combination of inspiration, invitation, useful information and soul nourishment for creative people of all kinds helps guide decisions about how I structure and revise my posts and what I choose to share here.
First, I considered what the post was fundamentally about and what the key takeaways for the reader would be, and how I might frame it to give context to the reader.
I cut out anything that didn’t serve the basic gist of the piece or that weakened any part or created confusion. I listened to the lines, reading out loud, to make sure they flowed. And I added more paragraph breaks for easier reading online.
I decided to forego the typical blog format of having subheadings (like this post does) and just to let the piece flow. That was more in keeping with its nature.
Sometimes rules of form are helpful, sometimes they impede. Part of being an artist is knowing or guessing which is true for any one particular work.
Finding the Form
One of my favorite quotes about writing—and it applies to all art—comes from Jack Kerouac’s brilliant, weird list called Belief and Technique for Modern Prose: List of Essentials, which I keep on the bulletin board in my studio. The quote is: “Something that you feel will find its own form.”
I have to remind myself of this often when I have created the beginning of something that I don’t yet know what to do with. Many of my writings fall into this category at the outset.
Like this post today. It began as brief update to my patrons on Patreon, and suddenly I found myself creating a post for them on form and revision, which then got furthered revised into this post for you.
Listen to Your Art
Let your pieces speak to you and tell you what they want to be and who your audience might be. If you listen, they will begin to guide you.
Consider the needs and desires of your intended audience. Consider the expectations you are creating at the outset of your piece and how you fulfill these and/or create surprise. You don’t want to frustrate or lose your audience.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different forms, to move things around, remove and add, and see what feels strongest. You won’t know if you don’t try.
Consider what the essence of the piece is, what it’s really about, how it moves, the tone, feel, world it creates. Strengthen that by removing anything that does not serve that essence.
If you have to take away things you love—”Kill your darlings” is famous advice for writers—you can always save them for another possible piece. Keep some sort of file or reference of these. They may provide the perfect starting point for your next brilliant work of art.
To your own radiant form, Maxima