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Revision

I’ve been doing a ton of revision this week. HAPPILY. With actual JOY. And if that last word makes perfect sense to you, then you can probably stop reading now because you’re one of those magical creatures who’s loved revising ever since you started writing. Let me tell you: I am not one of those. What I am and have been is a writer who loves, loves, loves writing first drafts and then tolerates revision because it is a (very) necessary evil.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve started to get better at it out of necessity, because I’ve had workshop productions and a commission, both of which involve an upcoming performance that requires the best work possible to be put forward. I revise work even when it isn’t going up, of course–but an actor freeze date sure does make revision seem all the more important. But this week, at the University of Tulsa’s WomenWorks workshop, I’ve been spending hours and hours each day actually loving revision, being excited for it. This post is me asking myself: why? Because obviously I’d like to be able to reproduce this feeling the next time I’m buried in revision.

I think part of it is a very simple realization that took me years: If a line or paragraph or stage direction makes me cringe… I can change it. This probably sounds very obvious to you. But if you’re a writer who’s struggled with revision, think about it for a second. Anything, anything at all that bothers you about your script… you can fix it. And you will. Your cringe, your frustration, your desperate wish to be anywhere else when that one line is said, that’s actually a beautiful thing. Stop pushing it down or ignoring it or crawling into a shame pit. Because that feeling is actually just your brain telling you loud and clear: change that line. It’s actually so simple. Just change it. You have the opportunity and the power to make that line whatever you want.

I think one of the reasons that power feels so good this week is that I’ve had time with this script. I wrote the first draft last October, the second last January, the third last March, and I had a reading in May that inspired a few revisions over the summer. It’s had a chance to sit and my brain has had a chance to keep the play on the back burner for a few months, simmering but not demanding attention. So, coming back to it now–and having fabulous student actors and a great faculty director to try out my changes every evening in workshop–it’s a natural moment for the play to transform into its next iteration.

But the fabulous student actors and great faculty director are also a brilliant–and possibly the most important–factor. I have a combination of resources and time and drive this week that I’ve rarely had before–and I’ve stopped second-guessing anything I change, because I know that I can bring it to today’s workshop, hear it, and then change it tomorrow if it doesn’t suit the play. Having six days of workshop in a row has really helped me realize–don’t treat the words you’re writing as though they’re it, as though they absolutely have to be perfect the first time. Take a chance. Write something strange. Cut half the darn monologue if you want. You can always put it back tomorrow.

I’m realizing–part of my previous attitude about revision has a lot to do with the distribution of resources. Because getting actors in a room to read is such a precious commodity, I’ve had the tendency to view revisions as permanent or at least as taking up valuable space that may not be given again. Even just on the first day of this workshop, I felt free of that. Knowing that there would be another chance to get it right freed me to actually do the revisions the play needed on the first and second try. I wasn’t worried to break anything. Because the play will still be there, and the actors will still be willing (and excited!) to bring their characters to life.

So what am I saying? Well, in an ideal world, every writer should have access to a week-long workshop, definitely. But whether I continue to have access to such resources or not–I’m giving myself permission to make the jump, to change the thing, to mold whatever grates on my ear into something different that might be better. Because no matter what happens… the play will still be there, and there’s always tomorrow. And it is fun as all heck to take a deep breath and giddily just do the thing you want to do. Throw caution to the wind! And just craft the play you want.

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