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Blowing Glass and Revising Stories

Something else happened while I was away, sometime in early June: our friend Phil was in town. He was spending a day blowing glass in the East Falls glass-blowing studio and my husband, Andrei and I drove there to see him.

When we got to the studio, Phil was in the middle of blowing a vase. We positioned ourselves maybe five feet away from him and watched him work for a while. My husband was fairly familiar with the process, but I wasn’t. I had never seen anyone blow glass before. I don’t know why, but I was actually surprised to see the process included blowing in its most literal form. I was also surprised at how repetitive the process was. Put the glass into the fire, take it out, blow, back into the fire, out, blow, then all over again.

I watched the process in fascination. I sweated. It was maybe 120⁰F in the room that had several ovens. Phil was one with the vase, moving precisely the delicate vase-to-be, repeating the same steps over and over again.

I sweated and thought about my writing. More particularly, revision and editing. Over years, I’ve become less and less willing to work hard on revising my stories (or whatever else I write). Weighing every paragraph, every sentence, every word. I came to hate the repetition – read, read again, and again, until you are sick of it, then put it away, start all over again tomorrow.

I’ve become less patient. Less passionate about revising. More sloppy overall. More a fan of rawness.

I am not sure this is a good thing. I am pretty sure it’s not. At some point I thought this new phase of mine might be related to my first job as a trade magazine editor. We edited every piece so many times until we wrung the last drop of life out of it. The authors carried the by-line, but it was we editors in conjunction with the publisher who wrote the piece. At the time I believed we were on the mission to make every piece the best it could be. I was fresh out of school, quite used to getting feedback from my teachers and spending hours addressing their comments while trying to learn everything about writing I possibly could. (Later I realized my teachers were not teaching me how to write – nobody can teach you how to write – but they were teaching me how to revise and edit, and those were important skills and definitely a huge part of the writing process.)

I have lost that passion for revising and editing my writing. Don’t get me wrong, I am as passionate about writing as I have ever been, about following the winding paths of my mind in the first phase of generating ideas and writing the first draft and the several subsequent drafts while the story is still evolving. But everything after that is starting to give me a headache, although I know it shouldn’t. It’s OK to go through sixty or seventy drafts, I tell myself. I know it’s OK, it just my passion for this last phase of the writing process has dissipated.

Maybe that’s why enjoyed so much watching Phil shape his glass in the boiling-hot room in this artistic, but at least from an outsider’s perspective, quite repetitive process. Fire. Out. Blow. All over again. And again. Similar to reading your story for the sixty-fifth time, deleting a few words  here, a few words there, adding a word here, a comma there. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s necessary. It’s part of writing a story. Or making this beautiful vase we have sitting on our mantelpiece.

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