Revisions, revisions, and reviewer comments. Words that might drive some authors insane. I have spent the last few weeks revising various pieces of work. One is a journal article and the other a piece of research work for an internal University deadline. They are different lengths and audiences. Both require revisions. I cannot say, in all honesty, that I like revising work but it has grown on me as a practice.
For various reasons, I took a writing course last year as part of the PhD programme and for the assignment ended up thinking about how I wrote a test piece of writing. I was struggling to make the jump from scientific writing back to Humanities (and made it successfully enough to struggle with the reverse journey). I found it difficult, in anything vaguely formal, to use the first person. I always used ‘we’, even when talking about my own work.
One of the ideas that I brought up from the various readings was the idea of the persona. I find that writing is a personal act of trying to explain or express something. It is, in part, about putting my thoughts on the page and exposing part of myself to scrutiny. Like many people, I find that disconcerting. What I had not understood, until writing the reflective piece, was that this is part of a persona, a reflection of something that goes out there but is not necessarily my actual self. Although drawn from me, it is a construction. I think that this sets up a useful link between persona and the self, but it can be explored slightly more deeply.
Elbow defines persona as “word for the mask that Greek actors wore to amplify their voices [per + sona]” (1994:3). This still provides the above link but it is the second part that I find interesting: the amplification of the voice. This may come from my research interests in sound but shows a useful way forward. If the words are a ‘voice’, then the paper becomes my mask. It takes the words and shares them in a recognised form. That was the point where I lost myself slightly.
What I hadn’t thought of were revisions as a form of revising my own voice over a series of acts. The first act takes on a particular position and mask within the community that I am in but through a series of changes of voice and position, through the act of revising, the mask changes. As the voice underneath it changes through feedback from colleagues or conference, the mask itself might alter. Although both are an expression of the author(s), they are not the author(s).
The recent revisions work, some from comments and others from re-reading and re-thinking, is altering the presented voice. Going through the text, I notice that the voice is changing as is the narrative. Positions shift for clarity and narrative stance. The words, and so sounds, also change with the new flow. Either this shows a new confidence or, if I feel that it is not correct, allows me to alter them.
All the time I understand that the mask is part of me. It is neither entirely separate nor is it moulded to my face. It allows me to play in a safe area whilst also changing to show the expressions that I want to display. Greek masks are exaggerations of emotion and perhaps writing is this as well, though it allows for nuances for those who can read them.
Using these in the current work has helped me navigate the comments and to revise the article. It is helping to reshape the longer paper, itself taking new paths from the original plan through necessity and links that I had not seen. It is an experiment as well as a position. Perhaps I had been afraid of writing and the revision process but now I think that I may, just may, be enjoying it as a practice.
Elbow, P., 1994. What do we mean when we talk about voice in texts. Voices on voice: Perspectives, definitions, inquiry, pp.1-35.