Ross Gay on revision

Ross Gay

Rumpus: It’s great you mention that because in your essay “Just a Dream,” you discover that the word “essay” is from the old French word for “trial.” You have that great line that says “maybe everything is always only a warm up” and you talk about how sometimes the discipline or the project is just that. It’s always just a warm up, and that we might not always get to that final result.

Gay: That’s exactly right. Part of what I liked about doing this practice was the idea of an effort or a trial or a warm up. That the relationship to work is not of greatness or triumph. It’s more of a little effort, a little meandering.

It’s only occurring to me now that part of the pleasure in doing a thing every day suggests that it’s going to be something you wrote in a day. It’s not going to be something you wrote in four years, it’s not something you wrote in three years. It’s going to be something you drafted in a day. Let’s imagine that as worthy of conversation.

Rumpus: Sometimes when you write in a certain emotional state or any state of mind, it’s hard returning to that state, especially when you draft something in a day. At the same time, there’s that sort of immediate truth to it that you write down, and sometimes it’s hard getting back to that. It’s interesting reading Delights and seeing all this being published and yet it still feels immediate.

Gay: I hear what you’re saying. Part of my revision process would be write them, tidy them up, read them out loud, hear how they would be heard, revise them more, and show them to someone or have a professional reader—that whole editorial process. But that is a good question. How do you keep that spirit of immediacy in the thing? They are what they are. They aren’t binding. They’re daily.

I’m working on a book that I’ve been writing on or thinking about for six, seven, eight years. That kind of arrival that you might get at a book you’ve written over a course of a year is going to be substantially different from the arrival you get at a book you’ve been thinking about for five or six or seven years.