I've spent the last few days reviewing student manuscripts, and I have to share what a joy it is to witness literature in the making. Not that I don't try to create my own literature, but that's a different thing because with my own writing I'm in the trenches. It's hard to see my own work from a distance, and to appreciate its form until I have had some time away from it.
Working with students lets me observe and participate in the process of creation, and even lets me prod here and there. Some of my students have qualms about submitting the same manuscript again, but I love to see how, with all the feedback from our group, a piece of writing takes shape.
I've been going over the fourth revision of what promises to be a stunning lyrical essay from a student who never before revised anything. What, she said, would it say about her writing if we all still didn't get what she was trying to say even after she rewrote it? She should not have worried. I have been beyond thrilled when she finally dared to revise. Now she's committed to the process, and I am just plain happy that I nudged her in that direction.
It's fine to put out first draft after first draft, but at some point it is time to rewrite. Whether you are in a workshop or not, feedback from readers always helps to see your work more clearly, and distance from your own writing does as well. Because it is, in most cases, through honing and reshaping, i.e. through rewriting, that we figure out what a piece of writing can really become, and what it is really about.