It’s been a season of revision: I’ve been spending the last few weeks revising an article on orangutans in two naturalists’ accounts of their trips to British Borneo, and I’m in the midst of revising some parts of my novel manuscript ‘The Oddfits’ at the request of my literary agent. I just resubmitted the orangutan article this morning (fingers crossed). And the revision for ‘The Oddfits’ will probably be an ongoing process until (and if) it gets published.
Writing things from scratch and rewriting things are each hard in their own ways. When you’re starting from scratch, you’re standing in the middle of a landscape, and you have to pick a destination from what you can see and what you already know and try to head towards it. The difficulty lies in narrowing the possibilities and fixing your route. When you’re rewriting, you’re travelling along a route you’ve already plodded, but you know it’s not the best route: you’ve gone through a grove of trees where you didn’t need to; or you realize that you should have headed through the hills–the hills are a necessary addition. But it’s hard to figure out where you should break away from the old footprints and where you should retrace your steps.
And rewriting, for me, always seems to take more time than I think it should. Part of the frustrating thing about rewriting, especially with academic articles, is that I feel it’s a step backwards somehow. I want to be plotting new routes to new destinations in different places. I don’t want to be going over this same old path again.
For the novel, it’s been a bit different. It’s been really pleasant to re-read it, to assure myself that I am really satisfied with it in so many ways, and to add more detail to certain parts. That’s my main task right now: adding detail to some portions that are more “lightly written” than others. I’m sure that more revision awaits in future stages on the road to publication. But right now, I quite like the process. And for some reason, I don’t feel like I’m going over old ground when I should be tromping off towards newer ones. This revision process feels more akin to caring for a loved one, tending to a garden, nurturing a friendship, crimping a pie crust.
Perhaps these different attitudes betray a lot about whether I am, by nature, suited for academia. I don’t think it means, necessarily, that I don’t belong to academia. But there are some people I know (and whom we read) whom it fits like a well-made glove. The way they operate and cogitate, the way they write (and the speed at which they write it!), the way they express themselves all point to people who belong to the profession, seem as if they were made for the profession. I don’t think everyone needs to be this way. A job can, after all, be just a job, and there are plenty of people who can do jobs well without feeling that the job fulfills some sort of existential calling. I do admire these people, but more and more, I’m beginning to feel that’s not the stuff I’m made of, and I’m trying to be content that it’s not and, instead of running screaming into the woods of existential job crisis in a fit of melodrama, come to terms with the possibility that it’s all right to keep doing academia since I’m fairly good at it, haven’t been booted out yet, and derive a fair amount of satisfaction from it.