I Learn All My Best Lessons From Baseball: Revision Edition

A year ago, I was on my way to Scottsdale, AZ, to spend my one-week spring break watching baseball and finishing a revision of my novel. It was a week of heaven.

groundskeepers getting the infield ready
I’m here in my mind.

This spring break, I’m still watching baseball, but it’s from my desk, and I’m still working on that novel. This morning, I sketched out all of the things I have to finish this week. The list includes an academic paper revision, a review I promised to do, two grant applications for the Equality State Book Festival, and innumerable small tasks related to said Book Festival. There are other things (remembering how to cook actual food, finishing reading any of the six books I am halfway through, finishing some gifts I am in the process of knitting) that I would certainly like to do, but the others are non-negotiable. March 16 cannot slip past without the first set complete because this life is full of deadlines and some of them actually matter.

This morning, too, I took something off of that list, something that had been on my Spring-Break-Absolutes since last fall. I took “finish the novel revision” off of that list. It’s the same novel I was working on last spring break, though it’s changed a lot since then (for the better), and idealistic me thought that I’d surely be done with it by now (wherein done means “ready to send it out,” really, really ready, not only kind-of-ready like I was last spring and still tried three times, stupidly).

I didn’t take it off the list because I don’t want to work on it. The opposite is true. I’ve spent most mornings since January sitting with the manuscript, re-reading, re-considering, understanding the big changes that I’ve been avoiding. I am getting closer to really understanding it. And I’ve revised it on self-imposed deadlines twice before. Rushing it at the end is not the thing this book needs. It only took a year to understand that, but understanding it doesn’t make it easier to swallow.

Back in February, when I was certainly at the height of the now now now feeling this novel has been causing, someone on Twitter linked a post by Sonya Huber that begins

Your book is taking a long time to write. You see updates on social media about the release of other books, and you get a racing hopeless feeling inside, as if your little book with its million little legs were trying to climb up a mudslide. You have been through this draft so many times. You have been asked how many drafts it takes you to write a book, and you want to say that the answer is really the number of times you thought you were finished, plus one. (read more)

Huber’s post gets at what I’ve been feeling for a year. It’s agonizing, feeling like I’m very close to being done, but not being done, and realizing more and more with each revisiting of the manuscript that it deserves better than hurrying. There’s a piece of feedback that I need, and there’s a slowness that the book needs, a consideration and a deep thinking. Neither of those are going to appear according to a schedule. The week since AWP drove that home.

On Monday morning, I woke up and spent my writing hours organizing my notes and my revision plan. I was doing that in preparation of this week: my plan of attack. How would I approach the revision in a way that would let me get it finished while also finishing the necessary tasks I mentioned earlier? What happened was that, while I was puttering about in Evernote, making checkboxes beside planned edits (so when I made them I could put that little mark in the box–it is so incredibly satisfying and so indicative of why my scheduled process has its pitfalls), I figured out something I hadn’t figured out yet about the ending. I did the same thing on Tuesday, just slowly puttering and shifting notes from one file to another, and I understood something else. It happened again on Wednesday. In two hours of slow thinking–not even writing at all–I made more real progress than I had in the two weeks before, at least as far as substantial work goes. Sure, I line-edited and tweaked, but I hadn’t learned anything. When I had three mornings to think about the project, clarity came. When I had long days in airports and that post-AWP muteness that makes it hard to say anything, I could hear it. (And I could hear the answer to the hard question I’ve been asking about a chapter for eighteen months. I’ve known the answer for six, but I didn’t want to listen.)

Writing this novel has taught me more about writing than I was ready to learn, most notably that my process has always been about drafting. I’m only now understanding that my process has to change when it comes to revision. Being goal-oriented is great–when it’s time to get the draft out, when the point is to make the words happen in the first place–but it’s not the answer for finishing anything.

So maybe, actually, it’s good to have last year’s trip to Scottsdale on my mind.

Peoria ballpark outfield grass
It wasn’t possible to stress out during those games.
Sit in the grass. Take a nap. It’s just a game.

Everything about the baseball on that trip was about taking time, seeing how it goes. Yes, there’s an end to Spring Training and hard decisions have to be made, but they can’t be made before we understand what we have. Don’t rush this: it’s going somewhere. Watch. Wait. That’s part of the process, too.

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