A considerable number of my students are grumbling through an assignment I handed out a little over a week ago; it is due Friday. We have been reading some of the early American short stories in which the main character encounters, and sometimes even converses with, the devil. Such a concept was a fascinating thing to writers like Irving, Hawthorne, and Poe, and in recent years those who keep an eye on both literature and pop culture have noticed a resurgence of these same early Romantic themes. The assignment my students have been given is intended to not only draw out their creativity, but to determine how closely they have paid attention to some of the basic themes that lie within the selection of stories we have read. They are to write a story in which the devil is one of their characters, and though I am only requiring 3-5 pages (thus rendering their foray into creative literature to merely a “flash fiction” length), the prompt requires they consciously explore, within their own tale, the themes of good and evil as they are presented in such haunting stories as “The Devil and Tom Walker,” “Young Goodman Brown,” or Stephen King’s more contemporary yarn, “The Man in the Black Suit.”
I expected more complaints from missionary kids on the requirement of having the devil as a character in their stories. Instead, most of the complaints have been in regards to the fact that I want them to bring in their rough drafts over the next few days of class so we can work on them all together.
“We’re not just turning in our rough drafts?” is a question that has been whined by several students today.
Another is, “We need to have a rough draft?” as if everything one writes is immediate gold devoid of flaws and a need to restructure.
And, of course, all this got me to thinking…
Why is revision such a difficult thing? From essays to life events, the concept of revision can be a wearying thing. It is not a difficult thing to want to change, but it is indeed a difficult thing to actually get started. Revision does not come without pain. Ask any writer who knows it is in the best interest of a story to lose a particular stretch of finely-crafted description or dialogue – it is not easy to click that “delete” button. Ask any human being who is struggling to clean up their act, be it from drugs, alcohol, selfishness, greed, anger, lust, even depression. Change is a tough opponent to wrestle, and in the midst of grappling and twisting and desperately scraping for a foothold, we don’t recognize that this might be one match where getting pinned is worthwhile.
I am struck with the idea that life itself can often seem like a rough draft in need of constant revision. So many of us gaze back wistfully into our past because we desire to go back and relive things and maybe, in the midst of doing so, make better decisions that we feel would have brought about a different, more satisfactory outcome. And perhaps, were we actually given the chance, we would make better decisions. Yet our lives keep spinning forward, and we are all racing with such fantastic momentum that it seems almost pointless to undertake any kind of personal redaction. Sometimes I nurse the silly wish that maybe, at the end of my life, God will send me back down to earth to do it over again. A second life. A second chance to live a life with far less mistakes, errors, and absurd little typos. But, of course, such an opportunity would almost certainly produce not a perfected final copy, but another version of a rough draft – in need of outside revision to make it acceptable. Polished.
My students grumble at having to write these stories and then tear them all apart and rewrite them, but on Friday, hopefully what they will place in my “In” box is not a mess of fragments and thoughts and random ideas glued together by conjunctions and paragraphs, but something beautiful – something that wondrously and excellently reflects who they are and what they think.
We are far from our final drafts, but life is found in the revision. We should not be afraid of being reworked and revised, renovated and polished. After all, we have a very talented Writer who is dedicated to our perfection.
Leigh and I were recently blessed with a long weekend, and here are some pictures from the trip we took to Bavaria, and the towns of Mittenwald and Fussen, and Neuschwanstein Castle.
Our B&B and the Alp in its back yard
The alp that lives next door to Mittenwald
Mittenwald is famous for centuries of violin craftsmen
A line of mountains and an Alpine lake on the Austrian/German border
Neuschwanstein Castle! ... and some scaffolding.
On the hike back down from Marionbrucke
Leigh snapped this beautiful little church in the Alps