Posted by: jeannineatkins | November 1, 2015

Revising While Squinting at the Calendar

Recently I savored the beginning of an editorial letter, with its welcome recap of why my manuscript was chosen, but I braced myself for the following paragraphs. My editor had noticed a problem I kind of hoped she wouldn’t. Time passed, and I took a breath. Such noticing is after all a gift. As precious as her faith that I will find a way.

Between some gallivanting this month, I got to the kind of work that doesn’t look much like work. Walking, thinking while doing child pose, daydreaming on the window seat about new paths within a work I hadn’t touched in a while. It took some discipline not to pick up that work. The answers wouldn’t be there. I opened a drawer stuffed with old drafts and notes, lots of left behind pages. Another sigh before I shut the drawer, quickly, before the scent of mothballs could escape. The answers wouldn’t be there either. Those notes had led me from nonfiction to a novel to a life told in verse, but not to the scenes I needed now. It was back to trying this and that, winding in soft layers, like a wasps nest, purposely leaving gaps, which I’ll decide whether or not to leave to readers to fill in.

Mulling and experimenting is not a bad place to be, as long as no one’s counting down the days, which is about to happen. In October, I could avoid clocks and calendars. I needed the sort of time that can’t be measured. I kicked leaves as I followed wrong paths, and picked a way through briars on my way toward a few paths I’m now exploring. Some of my revision is done with a rock music soundtrack in my head. I want a little speed to push past doubts. Some ideas come from letting myself get rattled, shaken into something new, but others want to slide in on just the sounds of wind and leaves. Sometimes there’s a little party at the desk, with coffee as choice beverage, but it’s good to switch the music. Sometimes I take down the twinkly lights and sit by a single scented candle. And sometimes that leads me to thoughts that have a bit of their own rock ‘n’ roll.


But the calendar is turning, and November has a deadline: and tell me, what trigger-happy finish-gate-obsessed person came up with that word? I’m imagining my end gate as a gentle one, more leafy than wooden. I need to sometimes squint at the due date, but not often, and keep the ticky-tocky clock under pillows. Maybe I can’t live in a cave, but a tent I can scoot in and out of is okay. I may be kind of faking a sense of spaciousness, but let’s call that pretending. Besides there comes a time to swap the spaciousness of following all those starry what-ifs and grab the edges of scenes.There’s pleasure in open chances, but also in polishing the dusty shards and putting them in lines, seeing them become something that more people than me can see.

I’m grateful for the due date, and that it’s one that left room for play before hunkering down. I’ll sometimes put dates in front of myself, but I’m pretty loose. I generally can tell I’m on my way when ideas shrug off the fog and turn to images. Or I walk, and the places where my characters live seem as real to me as the houses I pass.  I’m really in when I know those places as comfortable or as ones my characters should flee. Mostly now, I’m looking for places for the plot to clench like fist, then open again. I won’t race with the falling leaves, but let them keep me company as we all move ahead as we must.



  1. Glad you’ve been afforded (and allowed for yourself) enough time for quiet contemplation and spontaneous play! And now that the calendar page has turned, I have every confidence that you’ll reach the leafy pile at the end of the path with plenty of time to spare.

    • Thank you for the confidence. I’m not sure about time to spare, but it’s a lovely thought! Speeding off, but keeping to slow music…

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