“Half my life is an act of revision” – John Irving.
Most of us writers are familiar with doing many revisions of their short story, their poem, their novel – whatever they are writing. But did it ever occur to you that our lives are full of constant revisions and we often have to “rewrite” parts of our lives? And that sometimes these life revisions affect our “revisions” in writing.
If this sounds absurd, let me give you a few examples from my life.
From when I was a teenager (back in the grey ages, of course) I wanted to write and get published. I accomplished the first, but the second was not so easy, Around the age of 20 I was writing short stories and when I finally got up the nerve to send them out (in those days by snail mail), I got what I thought was a devastating rejection from a journal in Alberta. “This is not a short story; this is an incident”. I was so upset that I stopped writing short stories and switched to non-fiction – newspaper and magazine articles. But first I took various courses i magazine and newspaper writing at a local community college.
Then my husband (at the time) and I moved just north of Toronto to Aurora, Ontario. This was the mid-1970s and Aurora, unlike today, was a very small town. But that local college from Toronto had a campus in a smaller town just outside Aurora, so I took another course in freelance magazine and newspaper writing. This class was a turning point – all of the students got published.
My publishing started with me cold-calling a local newspaper in Bradford to pitch a story idea. The idea was actually my husband’s and he had to stand by the phone and give me moral support to call the editor. I was a real chicken then. But I did it. Then I go brave and added, “I also sent you a humorous personal essay.”
tBoth stories were published and I ended up freelancing for that newspaper for a few years, then moved geographically (getting published. i was still in Aurora). I wrote a weekly column on Aurora’s community groups and their activities – first with a newspaper in Newmarket for a year and a half, and then with one in Aurora. There is a story behind those gigs, but that is for another posting. My next regular writing freelance gig was for the Toronto Star – at the suggestion of one of the editors at the local paper. So I was freelancing for that newspaper as well as a few small magazines – writing profiles of quirky people (my favourite), theatre reviews, some business stories, stories of local organizations and their members.
And then I moved back to Toronto in fall 1998, and expanded my writing to higher profile magazines, wrote freelance for another Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail and began to focus more on writing health-related articles – something I had become interested in when I started getting migraines.
But this was all non-fiction. Oh, yeah, I wrote a few poems and some were even published – in local newspapers and in a few literary magazines.
But what about fiction? I began writing what would become much later my first novel in the Beyond mystery series. Actually I started that in Aurora not long before I moved.
And at some point in there I began writing short stories, one story in particular, Porcelain Doll. The idea for that came from my background way back. I was a railway brat – my dad worked as a timekeeper for the CNR and he, Mom and I got free train rides. So I started thinking like a writer. What would happen if? The father in the story is very different from my real father except for working for the railway and the three of us travelling to Grandpa’s farm in the summer.
Porcelain Doll went through many revisions and some of the writing critiques (from various writing groups, including the one I started – the East End Writers’ Group) tore it apart. But I kept on writing it and a few other short stories. Some of these other short stories were published in anthologies.
A new small book publishing company, Blue Denim Press, started up. One of the publishers in this husband and wife enterprise, used to come to my EEWG group when he still lived in Toronto. so we were familiar with some of each other’s work from there. and after pitching a short story collection idea (originally with two of us authors), the publishers were interested in my stories. But I didn’t have enough stories to make a collection; still I signed a contract, and began writing frantically and furiously. Short stories travelled by email back and forth many many times with many many revisions. It seemed as more than half my life was then in constant revision
But Porcelain Doll finally made the cut and was one of the 13 stories published in Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012). From there I (slowly, lots of revisions), I wrote and Blue Denim Press published my (so far) two Beyond mystery series novels – Beyond Faith (2014) and Beyond Blood (2017).
Now I’m writing two books and wondering if I have finally gone mad, crazy, off my rocker (well, I am a senior). One is a memoir, getting my most attention as it is the next one for publication next year, and the third Beyond novel, which has a beginning and I am also doing research with it and a constantly changing the plot outline – much of the changes going through my head.
So you can see where your life going through constant revisions can affect what you write (or don’t write) and when. All from the wisdom in a short story rejection – “this is not a short story; this is an incident”.
I use that one in the short story workshops I teach – but that’s another “story”.
And that’s my cue to get out of Dodge – for now.
Question: What revisions or changes in your life have affected your writing? And how have they done so?
Sharon A. Crawford