The Writing Life: Revising by William Henderson

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Would telling you that I wrote a book last year, and that I spent the first few months of 2011 editing the book, and that I then started sending parts of this book to journals and magazines (including this magazine, which accepted a potentially divisive excerpt), surprise you?

I’m surprised, sometimes, but only because I lived the events of the book and because I wrote the events of the book and the aftershocks from the events of the book shaped my life, which I say, but really, don’t all aftershocks shape?

I recently received some thorough feedback from a publisher to whom I submitted my book for possible publication, and he told me that the point of view I used (second, because the book had always been a second-person narrative, at least in my mind) was not serving the material – and the story – as well as a first-person narrative would. He suggested revising and cutting and editing and developing, and doing the sorts of things to a book that people like publishers and agents suggest you do before publication. Or even before the possibility of publication.

So I revise. Or I will revise. I haven’t started revising, not as of the afternoon when I write this, while I listen to Sinead O’Connor, and while my children occupy themselves with the things that occupy them. My daughter, asleep; my son, in front of the iPad, and sometimes not in front of the iPad, when he’s using his magination, which is his word for imagination. Perhaps I should read something into the face that he doesn’t enunciate the letter I, that somehow he is still figuring out the I he is becoming, or will become, but I do not understand the psychology of a four-year-old, no matter how often I’m asked to. As you are, when you are the parent of a four year old.

Funny, how I’m going to have to slip back into the head of a different me, in order to revise. I tell people that the me in the book is a character, at least as much as a character as anyone else I’ve included in the book, because that version of Will – the Will I was for so long – no longer exists, and while I can easily slip back into that person, and can do so without losing sight of who I am today, I anticipate that slipping back into that version will be, what, interesting? Maybe interesting isn’t the right word. And difficult isn’t the right word. Again, that Will is a character. But that Will had no idea of what would happen and who he would meet and how badly he would hurt and how badly he would still hurt, now, when he thinks about how badly he hurt, then.

Revision. The idea of revision is interesting, especially in terms of revising a memoir, because I have to decide which moments from my life, from the year covered in the book, should stay and which moments should go. I have the luxury of hindsight, to know the events that got me from beginning to end, but I’ve written the book in the present tense, and I think I’ll retain the present tense, even in a first-person narrative, which means that the narrator – me, in this case – can’t know what’s ahead and has to blindly stumble forward, convinced he would end up in one place when, really, his path was leading him elsewhere.

I like the idea of elsewhere, of ending up somewhere unexpected, and I like the idea of tackling a revision as involved as this revision will be, if only to see what a different point of view will add to a story I’ve told and I’ve told and I’ve told and I lived and I no longer lived and I no longer live – to see what it all combines into being.

william hendersonWilliam Henderson is a contributing writer to Hippocampus Magazine. He has written a memoir, House of Cards, from which 27 excerpts have appeared in literary journals and magazines. He writes a weekly column for Specter Literary Magazine, Dog-eared, and will be included in two forthcoming anthologies: The Other Man and Stripped. He is a full-time writer, takes care of his two children, and is working on a second book.

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  3 comments for “The Writing Life: Revising by William Henderson

  1. I’m find the book-length memoir I’m writing to require more revision than anything I’ve ever written before – short stories, poems, essays, journalism. The books is shifting from my original idea somewhat, and it’s better for it. I hope yours will be as well, Will!

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