Monday, February 14, 2011


My life is all about revision--and that’s not just a metaphorical statement. It seems I’ve ceased writing anything new: my only task is to complete and repair the old. As if I’ve suddenly entered the field of furniture restoration, sanding the scratches, oiling the bumps, replacing worn nails--a deceptively satisfying comparison. As if revision were simply a matter of priming and primping, of returning to some earlier and idealised state.

The truth is much different. I don’t know about you, but for me revision is often a painful process involving hours of helpless despair, agitated distraction and false starts. I used to play endless games of spider solitaire, reaching for the fake reward of stacked and tidied cards, pitifully urged on by the celebratory fireworks indicating a win. My computer thankfully no longer offers me games and I’ve so far managed to resist the impetus to download a solitaire app, but my solitary procrastination did have its positive effect. Boredom and self-disgust eventually forced me back to the writing even when the way forward seemed too treacherous for words.

My current method of self-discipline consists of splitting myself into editing and writing halves, pretending non-acquaintance with myself, abandoning all attempts at preferential treatment. I write myself notes explaining the purpose of this or that metaphor, elaborating bumpy allusions, interrogating unwitting assumptions. I tell myself that these clumsy words will lead me towards the good ones, as if these were sitting quietly in a corner, just waiting to be found by me.

When the inner dialogue gets too strained I abandon it all, take to my skis, decide suddenly that the piano must be practiced. Movement is part of creativity, I tell myself, and doesn’t piano playing do wonders to link the left and right brain? Like every manoeuvre, these too have their uses, helping me to shuffle off the paralysing stress of immobility, moving me towards those days when words do come, and some of them are good.

The upshot of all this revision is that I have scarcely a brain cell to dedicate to the service of novelty. I fear the day when that final piece is polished, sent out to fend for itself. What will I do then? How will the new emerge from my shelves of bolts and sandpaper, my workshop brain longing for something more to fix?

Madeline Bassnett
Fiddlehead Poetry Editor