Revision is when it all becomes possible; when you're writing a rough draft again, after you've been in the final stages of finishing a long work -- it's impossible to remember just what that's like until you're there again. I don't mean the exhilarating moment when you suddenly have a new group of people show up in your head, but the moment just before that, when your brain is like a seven-story parking garage at 3 a.m. Or the moment not too long afterward, when you're in a room with all these new people, and you don't know them yet -- what they say to each other, why, what it has to do with anything. It's like having agreed to go to a party where you don't know anyone, and suddenly you're the mediator of a situation you don't fully understand.
Twyla Tharp, in The Creative Habit, calls these first stages "scratching...digging through everything to find something." The question is, how do we manage to write a new book, instead of somehow writing the last book all over again? What makes this particular book urgent? Why sit in whatever space we have for writing -- with the planet's climate warming up all around us -- and tell this story? One of my friends is doing a modified version of the Robert Olen Butler From Where You Dream method: spending months dreaming it through and taking notes. The fabulous Brian Kitely, author of The 3 a.m. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction, used to write "Not for the novel" at the top of each page. Much of that work eventually became his beautiful book Still Life with Insects.
I'm writing poetry right now. Not for the novel. Breaking old habits, old ways of handling language or making people on the page. Making it stranger. Extending ideas that came out of exercises our MFA students in Writing and Consciousness invented for their brilliant end-of-semester presentations -- including defining Zombology 101, finding the intersections of voice & vocabulary, exploring convergence & divergence or ekphrastic poetry or the conceptual/representational edge, channeling our inner barbarians. And much more. Effective ways, as my friend Carolyn said, to "debinary" the world.