Revision

I’ve said before that going through the editing process for a book is like being beaten across the face with a hammer, only to realize afterward that you look better with a black eye and fewer teeth.

I still feel that way: cutting and culling and revamping and revising your own work, your precious words, can be painful, but it’s almost always a productive pain. The ache you feel the day after a long run, or the longing you feel for a familiar place left behind so that you can set off to pursue something new and vital to your happiness.

These past months have been rich in revision, for me. Not just in the writerly sense, but in the larger meaning of the word: to reshape and pivot, to change direction and action based on new evidence.

In practice, this has meant becoming more focused in how I spend my time, while also opening up more of my day for investigative, this-may-be-cool-but-maybe-not sorts of experiments. So you might say my focus has included some very intentional unfocused time.

It’s also meant revisiting a lot of my older work to assess the bigger picture.

I recently redesigned Exile Lifestyle, as part of a larger, structural, personal overhaul. As part of this update, I’m also systematically re-reading every single post I’ve written since 2009 (there are over 500), reformatting them so they have a more consistent, easy to read layout, and adding an update to each one; a message from current day Colin, containing new thoughts, notes about how my ideas have shifted in the years between, and in some cases poking fun at my younger self and his silly ideas.

This process has been a blast, and I’m still only partway through 2010, so there’s plenty left to go. It’s been educational to see where my ideas have changed, which have stayed the same (in some things I’ve been almost eerily consistent, even as everything else has shifted), and how my method of communication has evolved over the years. It feels good to see the growth that has occurred. It also feels good to put a new coat of paint on a project that has served me well since the very beginning of this strange lifestyle of mine.

These edits, though minor, have already substantially changed the way I approach my work and perceive where I’ve come from, and the feeling is the same for my other projects.

Stopping to take a look at the bigger picture, figuring out what’s worked and what hasn’t, what’s been valuable to you and what’s been a burden, making some tweaks to the formula, and then pushing forward with a new recipe — endeavoring to do even better next time while leaving yourself open to future adjustments — is like editing your book or going for a run. It’s uncomfortable. It can be painful at times. It’s overwhelming and cumbersome.

But it’s also one of the better ways to achieve clarity of direction, and can be immensely satisfying. It’s a means of intentionally creating a new milestone; a fresh jumping-off point from where you can move in any direction, utilizing all you’ve learned up till this point as additional buoyancy, adding inches to your take-off.

Some revisions are regular: a weekly deep-clean of your home, a daily clearing of the to-do list, a regular twenty-minutes of quiet contemplation to calm any lingering mental discord.

Taking the opportunity to do a larger check-in and assessment, to give yourself permission to trim and edit and rework and repurpose, even if it’s only every few years, can ensure you’re moving full-speed toward you-shaped goals. And if it turns out that very few changes are necessary, these revision moment can still be valuable as reaffirmation of the path you’re on.