Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 9, 2011

Revision: Climbing and Crawling Through the Strata

A student recently sent me a proposal for a revision of her novel noting the too-silent heart she recognized in a draft of her work, which disturbed her. I admired her brisk overview of the task ahead. A lack of feeling may be something an author must see for herself to change it, and what steely-nerved honesty that takes. Most of us take on subjects that mean a lot to us. We believe we’re pouring in all our intelligence, observations, memories, and imagination. But sometimes when we look with a cooler eye, or perhaps a trusted reader points it out, we did a lot right – we have interesting characters, a tight enough plot, sturdy sentences – but the piece still lacks a beating heart.

How do we find it? There might be a thousand possible paths, but all I know is that it’s wise to trust in the revision process. Peeling away layers that feel flat to see if there’s some bit of treasure we can keep that points a way. Or while trying to fill in gaps, do we spot a dusty sign pointing a new way? Can an image be developed until it starts to thud something like a heart? The more of a mess we make in this stage, the likelier we are to find what we’re looking for. If revision sticks to the surface — cleaning this, moving that – no deeper feeling, which can push the story to the next level, is likely to be found.

I know my student is courageous: it showed in her gritted-teeth assessment of what days before she’d seen as good. She quoted Katherine Paterson: “I must write out of the heat of my own deepest feelings, the sounds of my own heart.” Could there be anything much greater to strive for?  I wish all of us luck as we head off with axes and picks, not brooms, chopping away at old terrain, looking for gold.

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Responses

  1. Thank you, Jeannine. I’m warming myself in your window seat, and drawing courage from your words. ❤


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