With the insecurities, easily hurt feelings and sense of not belonging, middle school is still the stuff of nightmares. Yet, much as we might want to have avoided those years, middle school experiences are rough drafts for later life. Fortunately, writing poems or prose does not have to be as painful. We have the opportunity to erase our mistakes and revise.
Early in my novel-in-progress, for example, reporter Janelle Martin familiarizes herself (and the reader) with the cast of characters and their hometown. To do that, she drives around the city past schools, churches and homes significant to the accused bioterrorist. Here’s an early draft of her arriving in town:
“The dashboard clock said 12:12 a.m., too early to check into the Holiday Inn Express and not ready for lunch, so Janelle stayed straight on US-30, allowing it to become 8th Avenue South and followed it past Clinton High School.”
That was the middle school version. Later, I went back, moved the mapping detail up from later in the narrative and added clarity. One sentence became three:
“The dashboard clock read 12:12 p.m., too early to check into the Holiday Inn Express. The chips and cookie had dulled her appetite, so she wasn’t ready for lunch. Before leaving Chicago, Janelle had mapped her interview locations, but with no interviews scheduled that day, she began a lazy loop around Clinton on a self-guided tour.”
The next paragraphs in both versions describe the key locations she passes. However, in the second version, I added how these places have changed, concluding with:
“So many changes to touchstones in Paul’s life. She wondered if upon returning from Afghanistan he had felt like a stranger in his hometown.”
Those final two sentences help put her drive in perspective and hint at Paul’s state of mind.
Perfect? No. Final version? Not sure. I’ll see where my writing takes me. I can’t go back for a middle school do-over, but I can revise my writing to make my readers’ experiences better.
Nothing is ever “finished.” You just reach a point of diminishing returns. I used to hate revising, but now it’s the most enjoyable part of the process for me. It’s where I get better, even if the piece still stinks in the end. The editors will still chop it up to justify their existence.
The moment you enjoy what you have written, your work is perfect.
I might enjoy it when I write it, but I always seem to find a better way to say it.