A writing teacher once told me that you know a piece is done when you can’t stand to look at it anymore. For a long time, I thought that was about the best writing advice I’d ever heard; it distilled a lot of my own beliefs about revision to a luscious sound byte. Though, as I’ve progressed in my own work, I’ve become less and less confident that it’s fully true. I do still feel that the diligent and dedicated writer’s gut is a useful measure of a story’s relative “doneness,” but I’ve also started to see a broader, longer, and more methodical approach to revision creeping into my work.
Enter Alan Heathcock.
I met short story writer Alan Heathcock at this past summer’s Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Ripton, Vermont. Full confession that I’d never heard of Alan before the conference, but after his reading in The Little Theater the second night “on the mountain,” as they say, Heathcock, constantly wearing a fedora, become one of many writers I made a mental note to learn more about. Alan gave a craft class on Revision at Bread Loaf, much of which he covers in a great interview he gave to fullstop.net. Some of the ideas may be unappealing, mostly because they imply that you’re probably sending in your stories too green, but there’s a great deal of wisdom coming out of this guy’s mouth. And you can tell he believes it. Like, really believes it.
Check it out here: http://www.full-stop.net/2011/04/27/interviews/alex/alan-heathcock/
Also recommended is Alan’s story collection Volt, which is garnering praise and earning well deserved rewards. The collection took him 12 years to perfect and he talks about why in the interview; his approach to revision is a big part of it. A sobering reminder here that we all work hard, but to get something truly “right” means you may just have to kill your clock.