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?