"Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice" by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew is on par with Anne Lamott’s "Bird by Bird" and Stephen King’s, "On Writing." This book was provided gratis by a third party to write an objective review. Yet, I’ve gained such a great deal from "Living Revision" I feel compelled to send Andrew a check. Reading this book was the equivalent of attending a week-long writing conference.
As the title makes clear, this is not just another book on the skills needed to be a writer. Andrew takes her readers into the demanding work of becoming an artisan of the craft. “Revision is an inner work and thus a spiritual practice…Revision is the work of learning to love. Love takes time. Love is what brings us and our writing to fruition.” Andrew loved Living Revision tenderly for six years. My copy is now dog eared and marked thoroughly and a few weeks.
Andrew has taught the art of writing to all ages for over almost three decades. Her ability to speak to the beginner as well as the published author shines. Every detail of Living Revision has been carefully crafted. Even the shape of the piece mirrors a writer’s notebook. Each chapter is filled with wisdom from the library of literary queens and kings. She offers practical tips that have been matured on her own desk. Throughout the pages she gently suggests writing prompts that become progressively more challenging. I began to anticipate them with great joy. To become a better writer, one must write and it can be helpful to do so at the behest of a master.
As valuable as the practical application must be, it’s the inner work where Andrew drove me, sometimes in my reluctance. Her insistence that the art and craft of revision has both a contemplative and violent nature, reminded me of rejected drafts that are begging my return. To revise is to sacrifice the ego and the beautiful words no one else could scribe, yet for the sake of finding one’s true voice. “Voice, is relational.” At times, Andrew tells us, we must trust that our unconscious voice will speak to the unconscious of the reader. Such is the power of words that are birthed from love onto the page.
Andrew is forthright in her vulnerability. She reveals her truth in full display in order to model the writer’s demand to become authentically present to the page. The writer must do more than simply show up. The one who dares to write must expose to the reader what is at stake for the author. The writer must know and experience the “heartbeat” of both the inner and outer purpose of the project. “Why you write shapes how you write,” which is “usually born of some discomfort.” The more the writer is willing and capable of settling into this discomfort, “the better we can harness its energy.” Here, Andrew is revealing the psychic dark work of the writer in solitude. To write is to be alone with one’s life and recognize that “Perfection punishes the soul; it is an elusive and damaging goal.”
Typically, when I review a book, the critic in me rises easily to the page. For Living Revision, I have none. And now my critique of any future work, my own included, will be based on how much love is evidenced in the revision of the work. I need to find Andrew’s address so I can mail her my check.
The deeper we go, the less we understand.
2 weeks ago