Thursday, February 9, 2012

Practice Thursday—Revision

Abbe overseeing the revision

When I bought my little house 10 years ago, I thought I'd be content with it forever. Sure it needed a little sprucing up (new wiring, new furnace, new bathroom tile; I just closed my eyes as I wrote out all the checks), but since this was my very first house, I didn't quite realize you can change things. I mean, REALLY change things.

You can cut a hole in a perfectly good roof and put in a skylight. You can tear out that sink you hated and put in a slick new one. You can demolish an entire wall, build a new foundation, add a room where none existed.

I revised my house about two years ago. I added a dining room, a laundry room, a deck—but the whole process started with subtraction. I needed to cut down an old Rainier cherry tree (and, being me, I had to write all about it in my essay "The Burden of Bearing Fruit"), which opened up a new space for wonderful things to happen.

It wasn't pretty though. First I had to assess, with a cold eye, the way things stood.
Old kitchen nook. Not very attractive. Still, I loved that picture window.

Then I had to have a vision. I had to imagine. I had to imagine the  new space. Imagined French doors. Imagined shade trees. Imagined the perfect, contented self standing on the deck.

Then I had to collaborate. I had to hire people who knew more than I did. Men who gently revised my vision to something more manageable. I had to cry sometimes. I had to wring my hands.

Then the demolition. The letting go. The unearthing of  ugly.Things became pretty ragged for a while.

a house without siding looks pretty pitiful

But my contractor, Dave, remained cheerful.
always smiling, even when I whined

I had to keep revising my vision, my expectations. I had to stop worrying. I had to make decisions quickly. I had to let the rooms grow the way they needed to grow. I had to get used to the mess.

this became the new normal

And eventually—after many small revisions to the plan; after many months and thousands of dollars over the estimate—the new rooms settled into place.

everything got bigger, even rooms we hadn't touched

Dave did a lot of detail work that made the new rooms seamless with the old.

No French doors, but perfect all the same
And I LOVE this revised house. I even came to love the process, and started looking around for other things to do. I painted three more rooms. I had new bookshelves built into my office. I bought new bedroom furniture. It started feeling a little addictive, this itch to revise.

{okay, here's the writerly segue; you knew it was coming!}

I've always loved revision in writing. To me, this is the fun part, after you've done the hard labor of creating something out of nothing. I've learned that the quickest way to revise is NOT to stand in judgment of the writing, but to revel in opportunity: what can you subtract? what can you add? What kind of elegant solution comes out of these calculations? I find that in revision I can focus much longer and with much more joy than I can in the original writing itself.

And now I want to practice efficient revision all the time. In my teaching. In my yoga practice. In my relationships. I'll still revel in my visions of how things can be (we must always start with a vision, after all.) But I want to learn more fully that revision does not stem from failure. On the contrary, revision is the creative mind working at its best.

Revision sees what can be done, and does it. Revision doesn't mind the mess, knowing that's where the real beauty resides. Revision allows a more accurate and authentic life (and story) to unfold.


  1. Like! (Is there a Like button? I don't see one.)

    1. I'll go shopping for a Like button, thanks!

  2. I'm glad I'm not the only one who loves the revising process :)

  3. This post reminds me of your essay about the remodel. Thank you for this musing!

  4. I am not the revising fan! I have to force myself not to abandon writing projects because of revisions!

    Also, remodeling my house in Chelan, while the payoff was great, was the most frustrating and annoying era in my life. It took almost a year longer than it was supposed to and had me living in a motorhome in my driveway for an entire summer. Gah... I still get angry just thinking about it!

  5. Yes, both revision and remodeling can be frustrating! It's a way to cultivate saintly patience....

  6. Hi Brenda,

    I love your writing...*discovered* your blog via Wendy Rawlings' blog (you both launched on the same day I think). Currently reading Listening against the Stone and feel like "Where have you been all my life?" It's exciting to find a book that I know will help feed the one I'm writing. Thank you!

    And I feel similarly about revision... we are done sitting down to the blank slate, the unknown, and finally get to activate the other half of our writing superpowers.

    thank you,

    1. Thank YOU Laura! So nice to have you hanging out over here at Spa of the Mind. Hope all is going well with your writing.

  7. I love this post, Brenda, and your home (being around during this progress makes it even more interesting)- the tie you weave between the two types of revision makes me miss sitting with you and Nancy two days a week. Also, seeing your porch again makes me remember I really do need to trade homemade meals for quiet porch sits. :)

  8. Thank you! Would love to see you ANYTIME!


What say you?