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Revamp, Rewrite, Remodel

April 4, 2014

Building a house from scratch is easier than fixing an old one. You get to plan it out from the beginning instead of trying to fix structural problems without compromising the existing décor. For an upcoming writer such as myself, editing a problematic story has proven to contain similar difficulties.

Over time, houses tend to settle. Doorways and window openings shift out of square and plaster cracks along stress lines. Floors slope, porches especially; even concrete foundations crumble from years of weathering.

When a carpenter sets jacks under a house and brings it back to level you might think all the doorways and window openings and stress lines would fall back into place, but that rarely happens. Typically the problem shifts from room to room like a lingering backache. There is no simple solution. Either you live with uneven floors or you pay for a lot of band-aids – and still end up with an old, creaky house.

In revisiting my growing collection of trunk stories I found one I was passionate enough about to take on the task of revamping. It needed more than editing for diction and syntax and excessive commas and adverbs; the story had structural flaws no amount of surface work was going to alter. And yet-

And yet, I couldn’t do it. No matter how hard I strove to see beyond the words on the page I kept coming back to the story I’d written, trying to will it into something better. It was like the story – the house – had trapped me inside and wouldn’t let go. I had a plan. I even had an outline. I knew what I wanted to do, but the thought of all the work – when there was a ready-built structure right in front of me – was overwhelming.

So I wasted a bunch of time remodeling the story and wasn’t satisfied with the result. Neither were the publishers. There was only one thing I could do: start over. My red-inked drafts would serve to fuel a symbolic fire as I freed myself from the story’s deficient structure. Only then would I be able to see the great beyond.

The metaphor ends here, however. Don’t try this on your house.

Author’s note: in the spirit of this post’s theme I been revamped the original blog and may edit it further – or one day simply raze and rebuild it.

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