Let these seven principles guide you as you shape, hone and polish your work.
1. Be detached but loving.
Let your work sit quietly for a time before you launch into revision. That time could be a day, a week, a month or six months. And it could be longer or shorter from one piece of work to the next. The key is to give both you and your work the space and distance that allow you to approach it heartfully, objectively and discerningly. Respect your initial draft. Respect all your drafts. Don’t be a slave to them. Allow your work to grow, change and mature.
2. Read aloud.
Whenever practical, read aloud. We are always more attuned to language, rhythm and flow when we read aloud. We often read more thoroughly when we read aloud. You will want to read your work silently as well, of course. But particularly at the beginning and each time you make major changes, your voice will tell you where you have strayed off course.
3. Be respectful, gentle and firm.
Treat each draft as you would your child — with love and without judgment. Revision is not about taking a broadax to your creation. It’s about treating each draft as a necessary stage in its growth toward maturity. Just as you gently, sometimes firmly, guide your children toward the fulfillment of their unique destinies, guide your work with that same spirit of respect — for yourself as creator as well as for your creation, which has its own vision and imperative.
4. Accept that language is not perfect.
Do your best to bring your heart and vision to the page. Do your best to write the words and paint the images that most accurately reflect your dream and intention. As you revise, never hesitate to seek out more forceful and evocative ways to translate your vision onto the page. But remember that translation is an art and that language can rarely more than approximate emotion and experience. Think of the most wondrous scene you have ever witnessed and imagine trying to recreate that in words. You can come close. Yet whatever your mastery of the language, you will not recreate every nuance of your vision, emotion and experience. And that’s okay.
5. Respect your intuition.
As you become more adept as a writer, more in tune with your work and its vision, and more in touch with your Muse, you will gain an intuitive knowingness of what works and what doesn’t, without always being able to articulate why. That inner compass will direct you to the appropriate improvement or solution — again, often without explanation. Trust your intuition. It’s the voice of your Muse, the voice of your vision. And it won’t lead you astray.
6. Do your best.
Do your best to commit your vision to paper. Do your best to polish, enrich and enliven your work so that it aligns with that vision. Do your best on each piece of writing and, when it’s time, let it go so that you can create a new work and do your best on that one as well.
7. Be the writer you are.
Each piece of writing will teach you, and from each piece of writing you will mature in your art and your craft. Strive for excellence not perfection. Be the writer you are.
Excerpted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write