Holden Caulfield Wasn’t Built in a Day: Why Writing Is Revising

The first version hardly ever works.  On paper, or in life.  Think about the first version of the adult you.  Got a mental picture of it?

that haircut still gives me nightmares

Just like you were not a suave seductress tossing out insightful yet witty bon-mots about the latest Terrance Malick film while you were sweating in your jelly shoes in the Cafetorium of the seventh grade dance, the first draft of your fiction (or screenplay) is also not quite ready for the grown-up world.

But we all gotta start somewhere.

In Bird by Bird, the wonderful Anne Lamott urges writers to write shitty first drafts.  This advice is important, if not inevitable.  But the thing I find that most often holds new writers back from this is that they’re too proud about the toil it took to create this very imperfect work that they become blinded to its flaws.  Do You Know How Hard They Worked on This?   Waa.

Well, guess what, people?  That hard work you did is just the beginning!  Because if you’re truly doing service to your story, your prose, and your characters, the sad truth is, it’s going to take several passes to get it right.  And the best thing is,  each time you refine it, you’ll discover ways to make it even better, until finally, (after many, many drafts) it’s almost exactly as you envisioned it.  But never completely.

Perhaps Debbie Allen’s character in FAME said it best.   (Just substitute “dancer” and “fame” for “writer.”)

That said, the ability to be objectively critical of one’s own work is a practice.  If you feel you’re having trouble with it, give it time.  Sometimes, it’s easier to walk away from a piece of writing for a night (a week, a month) so that you’re able to look at it with fresh unbiased eyes.  Our babies are precious to us, and yet, we must be prepared to sacrifice them.

“The boy himself is too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say          about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it.” — Original jacket copy, J.D. Salinger


Published by hilarywgraham

TV writer, screenwriter, author

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