Re-Visioning: The Art of Seeing Stories Anew

Several months ago I pulled out some chapters of my first novel and I think I might be falling in love with it again. I’ve only invited the first chapter on a date so far but we got along really well, talked about old times, shared a few laughs at our awkward beginnings, drooping middles, questionable endings. I played around with the structure and created a free-standing story from that chapter, which, with the help of my writing group, came out better than I expected. In fact, I liked it so much, I submitted it to an online publication, Connotation Press, where it appeared last January (thank you again, Karen Stefano), and then—surprise of all surprises—it was featured in Ploughshares’ blog under the heading: “Best Short Story I Read in a Lit Magazine This Week. (Call me stunned and put my feet back on the floor!)

All this not to brag (well, maybe a little), but to say what I’m really falling in love with is the revision process. I’m not just rewriting what’s on these faded pages, but actually looking anew at the whole of the story. I’m “re-visioning” from the perspective of time and distance, sorting for meaning amid the mess.

A few days ago I had a writing date with my pal, Rick Ochocki. We met downtown at San Diego’s beautiful Central Library (when I die, sprinkle my ashes here please), found a quiet place in a quiet corner on the eighth floor, and set to writing. Both of us revising—Rick on a chapter of his novel, and me, on an old story that has bedeviled me for too many years to count, but one I haven’t looked at for several of those years.

Isn’t it an amazing and wonderful thing to lose yourself inside your story and see things you didn’t see before. How time goes by, but you don’t notice. How you and your friend look up from across the table every now and again and catch eyes and smile and then drop back inside your stories. How you didn’t even know you had to pee until, all of a sudden, you really had to pee. And then, too soon, it’s time to leave. But the two of you agree, just a few more minutes, and it’s like hitting the snooze alarm and re-entering your dream and understanding it differently than when you first dreamed it.

I spent a few more hours on the story after I got home, shaping the words and the sentences to the new understanding of what I believe the story wants to say. Then, with a kiss and a blessing, I sent it off to my writing group.

I don’t have any great expectations for this story. I just hope that, through the thoughtful and thorough critique of my writing group, I’ll hear whether my re-visioning of the story uncovered its truth. Meantime, I’m going back to one of my old storage bins and pulling out another “didn’t work then, but maybe I can make it work now” stories.

What’s your experience of re-visioning?

10 thoughts on “Re-Visioning: The Art of Seeing Stories Anew

  1. I know we all hear the siren call of that first ‘trunk’ novel (unless we wrote it at five years of age and recognize it was utter, irredeemable dreck) and whether we answer it or not depends on us. In my case, I’ve been mentally ready for a while, but finding the time is another matter.

    Lately, I’ve experienced more urgency to take up another revision as issues front and center in the novel take a much more prominent role in our public discourse. Finding time is still difficult, but isn’t that always the case? We find time for the things that are most important to us and we decide what those are.

    Thanks for another great post, Judy.

    • Thanks for commenting, Deborah. I think that story about not enough time is probably the chorus most of us writers know by heart. What I have come to know is that I’ll never “find” the time; I have to make the time. As you said, finding time for what is most important to us. Even though others may be very supportive of us when we do make the time for our writing, we still are the ones who have to make those decisions.This is why I’ve found it so helpful to have a writing group, or to make a date with another writer. Left alone, I often don’t make that time for myself.

      Good luck, Deborah. I hope you make time for your novel, especially, as you say, you’re experiencing some urgency to get back to it. I’m supporting you in making the time.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jill. I love the surprises, too. Most of the time. And even if it turns out to be just a fling instead of deep love, it can still be an adventure. It’s all copy, as we’ve been told.

  2. The revision? How about experiencing a phenomenon as radical as meeting someone new who reminded you of someone you might have known, but turns out to be you. The phenomenon doesn’t happen every time, only enough to walk into a “revision” with anticipation, not dread, but walking into something simply unknown–as into Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. I don’t remember the film but it starred Fred McMurray and was produced in the generation of the Film Noir, a genre that always led you into the unknown, whether or not you thought it quite ordinary. I remember McMurray driving alone at night then realizing he was driving not in the present, but in/into the past. The only referent was the car and the person how was driving it.
    Taking on a revision is much like McMurray driving a car in the present, but knowing full well that he is also driving (diving) into the past and into a dark, stormy night. That sounds sort of spooky, but then I like the challenge of a dark night. I survive them.

    • Hi Don, Thanks for writing about your experience in re-visioning. I dont’ remember that particular Fred McMurray film, but I sure do like the image. And doesn’t it feel like that? I hope not all your nights are dark and stormy. I hope you get a full moon some of those nights, and sometimes a glimpse of the Milky Way. Keep writing! (I know you will)

  3. Revisioning. Oh yes. I deleted the novel I wrote for 30 years and then wrote seriously for another two where I managed to get a whole 20K words. Then I stormed heaven: You gave me this great gift. Now I need for you to tell me what to use it for.

    On an evening I thought I was looking for photos I reached into my pile and took out a disk that was used and could not be changed. You couldn’t clear a ms. and then put it back on the disk in other words. My old novel was on there.

    It pulled.

    So I formatted a new novel. I was writing away using the same hills, the same town, same story without the ghosts in it (they got so bored they left anyway). Next thing I know there is a knocking on the screen and it’s the old characters wanting a new job. Dog too. They fit.

    It’s two years later. The words flowed although I took too many lazy breaks like weeks at a time. The old novel has no bearing on this one, no relation, only the characters. The novel is done and a sequel is in progress. So is the agent hunt. Scary part. They make you wait and I have no patience whatsoever.

    It taught me to take my time and explore and to fully develop what I say instead of rushing to the next topic. And to completely finish the chapter in progress before going on to the next sequential one.

    Yes that is a re vision.

    • Hey Linda, I’m amazed that old disk still worked in your computer. What a gift! I guess those characters already lived the first story and wanted to have another life. You gave it to them. Sending all kinds of good luck with the agent search. I know you’ll keep us posted.

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