“Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.”
- Henry David Thoreau
I had a chat with my Eccentric-Lady-Artist mother the other day.
(She’s not eccentric, really; that’s a nickname given her years ago with great affection by my father. For blogging purposes I think it works, so will keep the moniker – little did Dad know!)
She was quite serene about not having lifted a paintbrush during the holiday season, in spite of an upcoming art exhibit. One needs space to breathe, to think of shadows, to admire the cold winter light on the snow, we agreed. It won’t be long before she returns to her easel and gets to work painting, repainting, and thinking about what to paint next.
Soon after our chat I sat down with a short story I recently wrote. I went through it with a fine-toothed comb, crossing out this word and adding that one, pencilling in new ways of saying things. Then I had a think about what seemed to be missing one of the characters, and bit by bit, word by word, I filled in a few blanks.
Exactly a year ago I began my six-month writing mentorship. My expectations of the course were vague: I had a small collection of short stories to show mymentor, and I hoped to polish them up and ready them for submission by summertime. The mentorship turned out to be an exercise in revision, and I learned more about the beauty of rewriting that I ever thought possible. There is nothing quite so satisfying as plunging back into a story, reconsidering the setting, a character’s soul, or rendering the prose as precise and concise as possible.
And there is nothing quite so difficult. Sometimes while revising I feel my brain might burst with the effort.
At times I despaired when my mentor requested yet another rewrite, and it took weeks or months to think through his quiet, concise suggestions before any solutions came to light. Heck, one story is still sitting on the back burner, waiting for me to figure out a way to rescue it, to see it another way.
(OED – “Revise: examine or re-examine and improve or amend.”)