My life is constantly under revision − my thoughts, actions, motivations, the words I say. The other day, someone asked my author, L, what she was working on and she said, I’m writing a novel. You’re not writing a novel, I wanted to scream, you’re revising it. You haven’t been writing it for years now. Those first two years, when she and I were having a great time dreaming stuff up, that was only stage one. The past three years have been more or less revision, revision, revision.
A lot of people might like to be in my position, living a life where they could flip back to, oh, page 5, and undo something they’ve done, unsay something they’ve said, or say it more kindly or more cleverly. Some people might want to do this in order to make life less dramatic, to squelch some problem before it sees daylight. But when my author takes me back to page 5 to do something differently, she does it to make my life more dramatic. She wants me to say or do something that will make things more interesting later on. Without drama, why would anyone be interested in hanging around with me for a couple of hundred pages? So there I am, on page 5 of the current draft, saying something slightly rude instead of something kind, and isn’t it remarkable how little it takes to change the course of events?
The throes of revision, that’s how L will sometimes refer to this stage. She’s in the throes of revision. Well, so am I. Whole swaths of my life have disappeared from the manuscript with one quick click, entire episodes, smart things I’ve said, entertaining thought riffs. There’s more of my life in the trash bin than there is on the page. This has nothing to do with the story! L will say. I plead with her − can’t she see some of this as, say, character development, the reader getting to know me? So much effort has gone into the crafting, the careful choice of words, the reading aloud to check the rhythm.
She used to be on my side in these arguments, but now she seems more concerned with momentum than with me. I have to trust that my essential character will come through despite what she’s taken away. After all, she did let me say and do almost anything I wanted in the first few drafts, while she was getting to know me. The reader needs a reason to turn the page, she says now. This is a direct quotation from one of L’s very first teachers at the Sage Hill Writing Experience many years ago. I know, because I was with her in those days. I’ve been with L since the beginning. That opening sentence in Sightlines − “We built small blazes at first” − that was me.