If drafting is about exploring options, revising is about making decisions. Decisions about what you want to say and how you want to communicate it. Decisions about where the heart of your writing is, what’s good, and what’s not. Decisions about whether two clauses should be joined with a conjunction or left to fend for themselves. Decisions, decisions.
When there is junk in my writing – junk defined as anything in a draft that is not what it should be, where it should be, how it should be – it nearly always represents a decision I haven’t made. It may mean that I’m confused about where a point is going. Maybe I’m ambivalent about an argument’s validity or an example’s relevance.
There’s always junk in a draft, and I work hard to re-envision as I revise. But sometimes, revision is about as fun – and as productive – as running into a brick wall. At times like these, I convene my Mental Advisory Committee (MAC). What? You don’t have a MAC? You should get one…I’ll explain.
Convening a MAC is a way to envision your writing’s audience as you revise. To convene your unique MAC, imagine the five people – past or present – who have influenced the course of your life in the most significant and positive ways. Look for people who you know or knew well enough to be able to imagine what they’d say in response to a given problem. Members of the MAC are always on call; they reside in your imagination and memory.
MAC members should have significantly different personality traits and experiences from each other, because when you’re faced with a really tough revision issue you need as many perspectives as you can get.
Each member of my MAC is someone I trust. They’re people from my life who love me, challenge me, and who cannot be charmed by my attempts to justify, rationalize, or defend my writing. In short, they don’t let me get away with much.
I can’t give you a blueprint for the perfect MAC – everyone is different. However, I can give you an idea of the spectrum of perspectives you’ll need using some popular blogs as examples of personality types:
1. When revising, you need a friend who will tell you the truth. You need a friend who will come into your house and help you clear out your closets. The you-don’t-need-it-you-can’t-use-it-so-what-is-it-doing-in-your-garage kind of friend. You need an Unclutterer type of friend.
2. After the Unclutterer has made you throw out half of your draft, you’ll need a cheerleader. Someone who looks for the silver lining and knows that a positive attitude makes everything, even writing, easier. You need a Happiness Project type of friend.
3. Lest the Happiness Project friend make you feel complacent, you need a risk taker, a person who looks at the rules and asks, “why?” A person who, it would be easy to imagine, is BASE jumping in Rio right now. You need a Four-Hour Work Week type of friend.
4. You also need a visionary friend. A let’s-dream-big-and-be-exceptional type of friend. A friend who won’t stand for mediocrity. An Awake At The Wheel type of friend.
5. To bring the visionary’s grand schemes to fruition, you’ll need a tech friend. Someone who focuses on process innovation. Someone who loves to hack ideas as well as programs. You need a Lifehacker type of friend.
A MAC can help a writer out of the deepest slump. Imagine your Mental Advisory Committee looking over your shoulder, or sitting on your couch with you. Consider their advice. Listen to it, and you’ll be holding yourself to the standards of the smartest and most creative people you have ever known.