Amy Tan is a celebrated contemporary author whose recent works include The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings and The Bonesetter's Daughter. In an interview for this project, she talked about why she loves to revise her work. Her words can help young authors see the task ahead of them in a new light.
Listen to the audio.
"Revision is something you either hate or you
love, and it really has to do with your attitude
about what revision means. I love to do revision. I
revise probably a hundred times with everything that I
do before it's ever published, and that's because
every time I open my file and work on it, I'm revising
everything that was done before.
Revision is not failure. Revision doesn't mean
something is imperfect. Revision gives you second
chances, fifth chances, eighth chances to look at
something and do it from a different perspective, do
it with a different voice. It is a way to play. You
play with language when you revise. You get to look at
all your sentences and say, 'Is that really the best
way that I want to say that?' 'Can I make it funnier
or sadder or more compelling somehow?' And so,
revision is-for me--fun.
I think that what students need to realize-- and
maybe it's been engrained otherwise in them
unfortunately at an earlier age--revision is not
failure. Revision is an art. Most writers consider
that something they enjoy doing. I don't know of any
writer, as a matter of fact, who's published who ever
writes it the first time, thinks it's great, doesn't
go back to it ever again and just gets it published.
That's what you do with email when you press the
button too fast and it goes off. But every writer who
I know of-- and we're talking about writers who are
Nobel Prize Laureates, who win all the prizes and
write best sellers and all that-- they revise and
revise. They craft. That's what crafting is.
I think students might look at it also as more
like sculpture. You get a big pile of stuff, and you
have to begin shaping, and you say, 'Yeah, that's the
figure I want. I want this bust of a young person
here.' But then after a while you think, 'Well, what
if I just made this a little bit more realistic on
this side or more abstract on this side?' You start
playing with it again. And so you're patting and
shaping the whole time. That's the difference between,
say, the kind of craftsmanship with sculpture versus
water color. Watercolor is very fast, and you do it
and you don't go back and do things over again. It's
set. Writing is more like sculpture."