“Revision” or “Tales from the Possibly Salvageable Junk Pile”

Once upon a time, there was a story.

            At its heart, it was a good story – a twisting tale of life and love, death and drama, and supernatural secrets so well kept that even the author wasn’t aware of them until several books into the series. The characters were strong. The dialogue was golden. Unfortunately, the author – immature in her craft – was all natural talent and no practiced skill, and so the story was told rather poorly indeed. Were it ever to see the light of day and a bookstore’s shelf, the narrative would need a major overhaul.

            Uncertain that the tale’s renaissance would ever come, but not without all hope that it would, the author created a folder dubiously named the Possibly Salvageable Junk Pile. There she placed the numerous documents containing the mutilated fragments of the storyline, and there they would remain until such a time as the author felt ready to turn the heap of refuse into a book worthy of the story it would contain.

            And that author… *solemn nods* …was me.

            Epilogue: A handful of years later, the day of salvation is nigh. As of this post’s drafting*, I am in the process of digging through the hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned but collectively sorry old words in preparation to raise the story back to life. …Which, at this outlining stage, feels disconcertingly like robbing graves to piece together a creature ripe for reanimation by lightning.

Macabre, but accurate, minus the assistance of Igor.

            (*Current progress report: Outlining behind me. Deep into section 1-of-3 of the book. Encouragement and reassurances from Writing Buddy frequently all that stands between me and writerly despair. Morale is fickle.)

            I’ve never attempted “the act or process of reconsidering and changing or modifying” like this before. Sure, I’ve written a book halfway, scrapped it, and started over. But that’s one book, during a single sitting, as it were. This is several books, to be condensed into one in three parts, long after I’ve moved on to countless other projects. It’s an odd combination of familiar and alien territory.

            It will be hard to refrain from copy-and-pasting significant chunks of text and working outward from there, but refrain I shall, lest I undermine the whole point of this revision. If I want a better version of the story, then a better writer has to write it, and I’m relieved to note that I am a much better writer now than I was a quarter of my life ago. (That bodes well for my writing another quarter of my life into the future. *big thumbs-up smile*)

            My view on the project before me is pretty well summed up this way: “Early drafts often have something good going for them, but they very rarely have everything going for them [I jump in to hug the use of the word “rarely”. Blanket statements get under my skin. Allow for the exceptional. Now, back to the quote…]; the real beginning of revision comes when you can see that. From that point onward, the key is to take the best core aspect of your work more seriously than you take the little particulars of a given draft. You honor your stories not by clinging to your early attempts to capture things, but instead by letting them go, by asking yourself what you’re really after and doing whatever it takes to get there.” (David Ebenbach, “Re-Envisioning in Revision”)

            So that’s where I am, right now – what’s old-made-new in my world. Wish me better luck than Doc Frankenstein.

10 thoughts on ““Revision” or “Tales from the Possibly Salvageable Junk Pile”

  1. Good luck!
    Loved reading that, could relate so absolutely!!

    this is so true and applies to painting as well:
    “You honor your stories not by clinging to your early attempts to capture things, but instead by letting them go, by asking yourself what you’re really after and doing whatever it takes to get there.”


    • That part of the quote really stood out for me, too. Cool to know it’s a principle that applies across all kinds of media.
      Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. It’s . . . ALIVE!

    Joking aside, I’m proud of you. It takes a lot of courage to look back at things many authors would be content to leave behind. I have some small appreciation for how hard this is, given that I have just relegated my first (and relatively recent) full-length manuscript to the very same Pile.

    • Aw, thanks, Ben. (: ‘Tis true I worried whether I’d ever have the guts for such an undertaking; I’m so glad it seems I do!
      Rejoice, forsaken pages in piles everywhere! — for today, I offer you hope!

  3. *Dives between you and writerly despair*
    Hey, this is a nice place to be– I get to catch all your chapters, freshly-written.
    *Inhales deeply of the scent of recently-slaved-over prose*
    Hmm, never buy the day-old stuff. X)

    My Possibly Salvageable Junk has grown along with me, as I’ve never had the heart to leave it behind other noveling projects… But I have the heartlessness to entirely re-render them every time my Inner Author gets enough experience points for a level-up. 😉

    • It’s that heart-slash-heartlessness of yours that makes you my ideal shield against authorial blues, most excellent Ink Caster. And it shall serve you well as the game goes on. (:

  4. I think every scientist and author needs an “Igor” as they tread new ground or investigate how they stumbled over the sod. If you need a volunteer, I’ll start practicing how best to say, “yes, master.”

    • Wouldn’t trying to act like you have a hunchback have you laid up in bed for days? (Don’t even lie, Momma.) Still, if I just need someone to do the voice work, you’re on the shortlist. (;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s