Perfection Comes From Revision
In writing as in life, failure is the thread that you can depend on to tie it all together
the publisher. Since then – back at Amherst – I had been at work on my first complete novel, The Oracle at Watts. I finished it in that summer between college and life. Then I was not sure what to do, so I sent it to Sonny’s assistant, who was a friend. When she’d read it, she took me for a walk. We stood near the bleachers in Central
Park. It was late afternoon. Long September light striped the flanks of buildings. She told me I had talent, real talent. She read several books a week; some by published writers; she knew: I was the real thing. I didn’t care. I just wanted her to say one thing, then she did: ‘I want to give it to Sonny.’
And since then I had been waiting. Summer changed to fall to winter. I was half-crazy with anticipation. I knew he had read it; she told me; he had read it that first weekend in October. Why the fuck was he taking so long to be in touch?
My excitement had curdled into something corrosive when at last his email arrived.
We went somewhere where he could smoke. I had a whisky; he had a glass of red wine. He said I had a gift. I must keep writing, whether for publication or not. The book was not for him; it had an element of melodrama, which was not to his taste. He handed me a piece of paper. A report on the book from an impartial reader. My first review, as such; and it was bad. But I must keep writing; I had a gift. What I needed, he said, was an agent. He had two in mind. I should call him next week, and he would put me in touch. That was something!
I tried him Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday; a different older assistant answered; I left a message each time.
On Friday I realised he would never call me back.
It was a kick in the teeth; but later, much later, it felt good. Failure is the one thread you can depend on to tie together a writing life. And the failures we suffer at the hands of others are nothing compared to those we experience everyday, in complete solitude, at our desks. But there is no revision without failure, and there is no writing without revision.