The Brutal, Delicate Art of Revision

Photo courtesy of Jacob Avonzanto. Used under CC License 2.0.

In my first writing class, back in high school, my teacher once said that all writing is rewriting. For some reason, I was certain that rule didn’t apply to me. All of my fiction was perfect from the moment it was written down. I scoffed at second and third drafts. I was in love with the raw, stream of consciousness quality of my first drafts and I was utterly convinced of my own brilliance.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized there was something to this revision thing. I started reading about the writers who agonized over their creations, rewording the same line fifty or a hundred times before deciding it was acceptable. I also started reading the classics and it dawned on me that I was awful. Or, at least, my first drafts were awful, like all first drafts are. If I was serious about being a writer, I needed to learn to let go of my attachments to my clunky first attempts.

Which brings me to a month ago, when Jackie Casella, co-founder of Creative Colloquy, asked me to be one of the featured writers at the inaugural Creative Colloquy Crawl. I was honored, but I also didn’t have anything ready for public consumption. The wedding and honeymoon had taken the place of my normal summer writing schedule. All I had were bad first drafts.

I ended up choosing a short story I first wrote in 2012. I got some feedback, made some cosmetic changes and proceeded to get a long list of rejections from literary journals and websites.

Three years later, I can see now where I went wrong. I was editing with a scalpel when what I needed was a chainsaw. I cut an entire scene, then an entire character. I stripped away most of a beautiful paragraph about slicing onions (honestly, no one needs to spend that long talking about onions). Only after tearing it down to its basic frame was I then ready to build it up again. Lo and behold, the characters developed, the plot fell into place and my story found the satisfying conclusion it lacked before.

Now, after three years and brutal revisions, it’s ready for its moment in the spotlight. I’ll be reading it tonight — Wednesday, October 7 — at the Forum in downtown Tacoma at 6pm. I hope you’ll come listen and then I hope you’ll join for the rest of the crawl, which features over 30 writers and artists at 9 venues. I am truly humbled to be a part of this event with these amazing people. I hope you can make it.

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Jonny Eberle is a writer in Tacoma. You can find his previous short stories at

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