duk.00024.001_largeWalt Whitman: the relentless reviser (image courtesy of whitmanarchive.org)

The word “revision,” as a noun, is somewhat pedestrian: “the action or an act of revising something; critical or careful examination or perusal of a text, judgment, code, etc., with a view to making corrections, amendments, or improvements” (Oxford English Dictionary). It calls to mind Freshman Composition “revision plans” and a professor’s exhortations that “writing is a process.” Even Hemingway winks toward revision with his recommendation to “write drunk; edit sober.”

As an English instructor, I am a member of the guilty party. I champion the “revision process.” I urge students to think of every essay as a draft; for within every composition exists vast potential. Yes – even books! Even final dissertations! Everything we do exists in a state of uncertainty. And, industrious and perceptive creatures that we are, humans can always do better – we can always fine-tune.

I am a habitual reviser. I often throw away expensive thank-you and birthday cards – collateral damage of crossing-out, arrowing-in and running out of space. I spend more time than most on emails – because I revise several times for tone and accuracy. Even this essay is being revised as I write; the keyboard makes a satisfying tap-click as I copy, paste, re-arrange, reread.

And [oh the horror], I often find myself revising even as I speak aloud.

I recently left an interview for a writing job feeling deflated because, for someone who loves words, I didn’t feel very articulate. I am in the habit of being able to go back – to “peruse the text,” to “critically examine,” to re-read for clarity and tone. And I expect to be able to make “corrections, amendments, or improvements” – even to the spoken word.

And so when I speak, I pause. I reverse. I try to change words I’ve already said. I attempt to cut, copy, paste, rearrange – out loud. And I end up sounding garbled. Disorganized. Disjointed. I’m live-time revising. I’m a writer whose speech patterns have suffered irreparable damage at the hands of good revision habits.

But what about the verb form of “revision”? As an active verb, to “revision” is to “form an image of again or afresh, esp. in one’s memory; to envisage again” or “to form a new concept of; to reinterpret” (Oxford English Dictionary).

Ah yes. This revisioning feels different than in-the-margin notes. To revision is to encounter your own perceptions – to come in contact with your own vision – to consider clarity – murkiness – long and short views.


To revision might mean to see things in a new way; to revisit a previously-held assumption or form a fresh concept of someone or something you thought you knew. Revisioning is the discursive equivalent of your “new self” having a conversation with your “old self.”

To revision is the give yourself a second chance.

And don’t we all deserve a second chance? Another shot at seeing things in a different light? Another opportunity to size up a situation more accurately, more compassionately, more authentically?

Or perhaps rather than righting wrongs or bringing a blurry picture into focus, revisioning is akin to reacquainting. Reacquainting yourself with a moment from your past – reacquainting yourself with the dream that got squished in your pocket along the way. Reacquainting yourself with that young, vibrant, outspoken person you used to be. Or the quiet, introspective thinker. Or perhaps revisioning means reacquainting yourself with that sense of exhilaration you feel with cold cheeks and flaming lungs on an early morning snow run. Or the feeling you get in the passenger seat of your partner’s car – even after the hundredth date. Ah yes – that kind of revisioning.

So yes, I am a relentless reviser. Of that I am sometimes, but not always, proud.

But next on my list is to become a better revisioner.

To cultivate a life in which I think about vision – old, new and in between –  on a regular basis. For only by forming an image “afresh,” only by “envisag[ing] again,” can we catch an accurate, fleeting glimpse of the world around us.

And maybe, just maybe, “revision” in its verb form is the key to finding meaning – to reinterpreting our reality in a way that finally makes sense.

blankpageAnother good read on revision, via the Boston Globe (blame the Modernists!): https://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/06/29/revising-your-writing-again-blame-modernists/WhoH6Ih2kat2RE9DZV3DjP/story.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: