I have a story that I love that hasn’t found a home yet. I really believe in this story. That said, I know it could be better. I sent it out to a few places, against my better judgment but antsy to get it into the world, and sure enough, it was rejected. So when an astute reader I know offered to take a look (thanks Gary) I sent it off to him and he replied with a wonderfully insightful email about where it needs work. Lots of great stuff about thinking of the story as a play and keeping the action all on stage. Just what I needed to remember for this particular piece.
Now it’s time to dig back into it and make it the story I know it can be. Revision time. Unlike lots of writers, I love the revision process, especially when I’ve been away from the story for a while and can look at it with fresh eyes. As my friend Kristen-Paige Madonia says, “Revision is where the magic happens.” And I believe that. It’s where things begin to bubble to the surface, things that you never knew were down there under all that pretty prose. Deeper meanings. Themes. I’m often surprised when I’m heavy into revision by the things I find. It’s like discovering a story by someone else.
Supposedly, Hemingway rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times. I know it sounds like a lot, but I totally get it. Sometimes you just can’t get the words quite right, and you have to keep trying and trying. As Truman Capote said, “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.” Or in my case, the delete key.
Now I’m not talking line editing. I’m talking serious revision, as in re-visioning. Really looking at the story in a different way, from a different angle. It may mean that I slice and dice some of the stuff I like the best, but if that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do. Because in the long run it’s not about those (in my mind) brilliant sentences. It’s about the story. About making the story as a whole brilliant, or at least as close to brilliant as I can make it.
I’m excited to revisit this story. There are some stories I get sick of before I can get them right, but I don’t think that will happen with this one. It’s my favorite kind of story, full of normal people behaving badly. The beginning and the ending work for me – it’s just the middle (or muddle) that needs the work. At least, I think. But I can’t be sure until I get in there and dig. Who knows? I might find something I never knew was there.