On the way home from teaching a prose poetry class on a Tuesday night, I happened to listen to an early version of Paul McCartney’s song “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” on the Sirius Radio Beatles’ channel. It was an alternative, earlier version that appeared on the Anthology 3 album, and the song was raw, not polished. In fact, if left in that early state, McCartney’s catchy song would likely have gone largely unnoticed, except as curiosity.
Recognizably, the elements of the later version of “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” were present in that Anthology version but in such jagged form, a little off here, there, and everywhere.
In that moment of realizing the distinction between the Beatles’ final polished version and the studio start of the song, I recognized my own first drafts of written works in comparison to the finished product. There are all the elements in the original, but it isn’t quite working well. After hours, months, or even years of creating a work of art in any genre, it is tempting to let it go. But the revision is as much a part of the creative process as the initial inspiration. Only in revision can the artist begin to reshape before firing in those creative ovens.
McCartney’s one line, “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” was quite literal at inception, arriving from a woman who broke into his apartment near their Abbey Road Studio, he later related. It was the line that drops as gift; the rest was the creative process at work on the song’s journey in 1969. Of course, once in the studio, John Lennon offered his creative take, and the other Beatles brought that song into another realm. It is documented that the Beatles did thirty-nine takes before adding the lead vocal, then re-recording the song in its entirety. Joe Cocker’s rendition of the McCartney song was even more wildly popular than the Beatles’ original. Cocker’s raspy voice and pauses brought the song his unique framing.
I remind writers and artists of those distinctions made between the creative act and revisions as I write and rewrite versions of my own fiction and non-fiction products. The novel I am currently writing was almost left at the Anthology 3 level before I went back yet again, in one of those “thirty-nine takes.” It is this hard work after inspiration that a writer’s or musician’s patience is tested, but revisions are almost always worth that additional time and work. Time, patience, and hard work don’t always produce great art, but without them, great art is unlikely to find a way through the bathroom window. “She could steal but she could not rob,” perfectly translates the paradox.