The Revision Dilemma

It’s not too often we get to hear a singer/songwriter’s process of development.

A few days ago, I posted video of Joni Mitchell’s classic song, All I Want. Today I stumbled on this fascinating live video of Joni Mitchell singing a very early version of the same song—or is it? Although you can still hear phrases that ended up in the final version, and that mountain dulcimer is playing the same riff throughout, the specific words, and the entire theme of the song, are very different. If you get a few minutes, maybe you could compare the two versions for yourself before you read on.

While this early version is certainly less polished, there’s something very raw and moving to me about it. It seems a shame to me that some of the strongest aspects of this song have been revised out of it.

Is that inevitable? With the need to straighten and tidy up, will an artist inevitably lose some of the initial raw power? I hope not. Lately I have been creeping like a baby to the bath with each revision of my novel. I’m not sure I want to clean off. I am reluctant with every new change. What if, what if, I cut out the guts of it? It will be prettier and tidier and more presentable, but will I have made a terrible mistake?

4 thoughts on “The Revision Dilemma

  1. I agree, some of the raw power is lost when it’s too tidy. I’ve had to make decisions like that. Often, sacrifices are made so a work is relatable. It’s good to have two versions and then a reprise with the best portions of it elsewhere. This was an interesting post, as usual. Thank you. x

    • Thanks for adding your voice here, Sabiscuit. I always keep my old drafts on my computer with the thought that I’ll ransack through them at some point to save anything good I may have cut out.

      My other solution has been to recycle the portions cut out into their own separate little finished pieces, as I’ve done with the outtakes of my novel I’ve turned into radio stories for WBAI.

      • I like that idea, and I’m glad we have that in common. Sometimes that one phrase or flourish really turns the work around. I notice that my favourite composers do that in their work. It gives a distinct signature and a sense of familiarity for fans. Best wishes for your radio series and I’m looking forward to reading more about your adventures in writing. x

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