Revisions

Revisions: a promising word that grows out of a hopeful thought: to see again.

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I’ve spent the better part of the past six weeks revising pages I’d “finished” two or three times already. More than once, I have gone still before my computer screen and thanked Allison Hunter who asked me to look again; to see them anew. Those pages are now in her capable hands as she seeks a home for them.

We both know, of course, that, if she does, more revisions are likely. Good. That’s the kind of problem I’d love to have.

I’m grateful for every chance I get to see my work in a new light and make it better. That’s what I tell myself when I take the ax to whole scenes, whole chapters, whole characters. After the shuddering is over, I see with new eyes what remains and what remains to be written.

I wish sometimes I could revise whole scenes from my own life the way I can on the page. Here’s one I’d rewrite:

It’s the end of the summer session during my second year in college. I’m wheeling my two year old and his stroller out of the University of New Hampshire library when I run smack into the teacher and writer who introduced me to my journalism career. The sight of him panics me, in a good way. We rarely chat outside the classroom; he carries himself with reserve, delivers his critiques in short, blunt, phrases. I live in fear that I will disappoint him but I want to connect.

“How was your vacation?” I manage to say.

He is surprisingly forthcoming and serious. “It was good in many ways but very bad towards the end. We were driving in Greece and I hit someone who on a motorcyle.”

“Thank god you were in a car!”

Yes, I said that. Yes, he looked at me as if he was reevaluating everything he’d thought about me. And no, I cannot to this day tell you where that response came from or why it flew out of my mouth so readily.

Or, there was the time my little Mercury Lynx was crammed with five 13-year old boys, fresh from their eighth grade graduation, flush with the spring, a whole year of being at the top of the middle school pecking order, and the girls who had in the last six months or so taken an interest in them. They brayed and squeaked — depending on how kind puberty had been so far — about the girls who liked them. I’d seen the girl my son liked, thirteen with a body going on eighteen. She’d given him some attention. He saw himself going into high school with this woman by his side. Life was good and only going to get better.

I don’t know why but I said, “Enjoy it now. Because next year you’ll all be freshmen and the first thing the girls will do is dump you guys and try to find a senior to go out with.”

My comment was greeted with guffaws of disbelief but of course, we all know what happened. It wasn’t pretty. If I had it to do again, I’d keep my mouth shut.

There are thousands like this. I could make a list of all the days I would revise if I could. On good days, I comfort myself with the knowledge that these are the mistakes I had to make to grow more aware, stronger, more compassionate, more patient.

Like my novel, I am a work-in-progress.

If you are in a sharing mood, feel free to offer moments you’d gladly revise if you could or your experiences with revisions. In my next post, a few words about what to do with all the pages that are cut. If you have some creative ways you’ve put your rough drafts or rejected manuscripts to use, fire away. We’ll pool resources on the next post.

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