My notes from this week’s session with my poetry mentor, Fran Quinn.
Fran has taught me a number of things about the process of editing and revision that have been priceless – life changing, really, if you are someone who is devoted to your art, whether it be poetry, painting, or countless other mediums (like LIFE in general!).
What I’ve come to realize is that there are wise ways to revise. These are ways that can help you develop your craft in profound ways, as kindly and compassionately and gently as possibly, while moving a particular piece along from start to completion.
The OTHER ways to revise, the not-so-wise-ways, are those in which you flail about, grasp about blindly for solutions, bumping up in a completely disoriented state against all sorts of obstacles and walls along the way.
You’ll know you’re employing the not-so-wise-revise if the process of bringing a creative project to completion creates dread (and ulcers) in the pit of your stomach, induces you to procrastinate in every conceivable way (hello clean closets and a scrubbing the kitchen floor on your hands and knees!), until you finally bring yourself back to the page, to the canvas, to the keyboard, at which point it feels like throwing yourself headlong into a brick wall again and again. The not-so-wise-revise and I go way back, if you haven’t guessed…
But, now that I know better, we are, in the words of Taylor Swift, “never, ever, ever – getting back together!”
Revisions used to stall me, stop me up, and throw me for one doozey of loop. I often struggled with bringing things along because where it seemed that in the first round of creation, I was riding this wave of creative flow, when I went to revise, I could feel my rational mind entering the picture way too much. Things that initially had felt expansive, fascinating, surprising, mysterious, rich, complex, would start to feel cramped and contrived when I tried “to finish” something.
Enter the understanding of knowing when to employ vertical revision versus horizontal.
In vertical revision, you stay with the particular piece you are working on and go deeper and deeper into the piece. It’s likely that you even pick out one aspect of the piece that is really juicy for you, one which you have some interest of exploring more deeply, and you “follow it in” and go deeper with it, continuing to mine and excavate down through layers and layers, probably discovering more rich deposits of inspiration ore along the way. (If you’re interested in exactly how to go deeper, you can read this AND let me know and I can make exactly how to go deeper a subject of later posts).
In horizontal revision, you check in and see if it feels like you’ve ridden a particular wave of energy as far as it wants to take you today for a particular piece, and then you set that piece aside and work on creating the next piece. If you do the opposite, and try to keep digging in a piece after the energy is gone, chances are you will create a lot of confusion and overwhelm for yourself and give your ego/inner-critic too much of an opening to dive in and tear things apart.
Realize that there are some pieces that need to continue to gestate in the back of your consciousness and on your hard drive or in your journal. It’s great that you got the initial thought captured and out into the real world. Now move on to continue to let the creativity flow and, inevitably, things that you learn in the following pieces will expand your consciousness, hone your skill set, and will end up informing, naturally and organically, how to proceed with that piece you put to the side.
Horizontal revising can also, I think, be like outsourcing revision, temporarily, to some silent, deep interior artist-workerbee within yourself. In other words, even though you’ve put a piece to the side, it is still in your consciousness so, even without knowing it, I believe parts of you keep working on it, parts of you are awake and scanning the world the for missing bits of information or inspiration that will help it all come together. It’s like you’re delegating part of the creative process to quieter, deeper parts of your consciousness and they continue to work on it while the upper and more “frontal” layers of thinking (this is how it feels it works to me, anyway) go about creating the next piece.
This was a process that I intuitively stumbled upon when painting. When I first started painting intuitively, I was often overwhelmed and confused by my own paintings. I followed a hunch, however, that I was trying to cram too many paintings into one painting, and I allowed myself to work on not just 2 or 3, but MANY canvases at a time. This allowed me to channel as much creativity as possible and I realized that what I had thought was “overwhelm” was really this pressure of built-up, pent-up creativity inside of me and I was only allowing it to come out through one little straw (i.e., one canvas at a time) when it was wanting to gush and gush, with the energy of Niagra Falls. Giving myself this latitude, this space, figuratively and literally speaking, with painting as facilitated so much more ease and flow in my painting process.
I didn’t draw the connection to using this same technique in writing, however, until Fran pointed out, not long after I first started working with him, that it seemed like most of the poems I was sharing with him were really three different poems all crammed into one. He suggested paying attention to when I was being given “short poem” energy and to allow myself to stop when the energy seemed to stop – and to not force myself to write epic-length narratives.
Fran, picking up on the fact that I have one nasty inner-critic, also prescribed horizontal revision versus vertical for me in revising my poems. In other words, once I finished one poem and felt I’d gotten down enough of the details to create a complete-ish picture of what I felt the image/rhythm/language were trying to convey inside of me, then I was to not immediately begin editing and revising that one, but instead was to continue to create the next.
This has been a TREMENDOUS breakthrough for me. It has allowed me to stay with my creative voices longer, ride that healing and inspirational creative energy longer, rather than what would happen when I slowed down long enough to revise. And what would happen then was that slowing down to revise gave my demons and other inner-nasties a chance to catch up and I’d end up getting bogged down and beaten down by those overly-analytical, overly-rational voices and their down-right destructive energy.
My fear with horizontal revision early on was that I would never go back to complete things. My concern was that I would just only love to start things and would never learn to be someone who finishes. Turns out this fear was unjustified. What really happens once I give myself some freedom (from a piece and from fear), is that having a little distance from a piece helps me to become detached and objective – and I can better let go of the results because I know it’s not the results I love, but it’s being creative that is absolutely vital to my health and happiness, in mind, body, and spirit.
I still care about completion and want to finish things, but I’m no longer so wrapped up in that one piece because I’ve gone on to start others and am not dependent on that one piece “turning out right” and being the end-all-be-all. I have the perspective to understand that for me, as an artist and as a writer, the important thing is not to have completed “masterpieces” but to have this on-going practice of these art forms. Having this perspective has shown me it’s the faithful devotion to continuing to show up to paint and write the best I can that brings me back to my deepest, true self and closer to God.
If there are any of you reading who struggle with revising and finishing things, I hope this information about the difference between vertical and horizontal revision can help liberate you from struggling with yourself as you work to bring your art along and become the artist – and person- you know you have the potential to be.
Also, if you have any insights and practices you use that have helped you make the process of finishing your creative projects a kinder, more gentle – and effective! – process, I would love, love, LOVE to hear about them! Please do share in the comments below or on the Facebook page!
I really believe the more we share with each other these practices that help us unleash our potential in loving and kind ways, the more we will be unleashing a potential that will help heal us all and make the world a brighter, more beautiful, kinder place for everyone.
To your creativity!
PS- If you’re deeply committed unleashing your creative genius and making the next year the absolute best year of your life…the one that sets the tone and will set you on beautiful trajectory for the years that follow, email me at email@example.com to receive all the details about my next coaching program – EPIC!