Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Revision: Getting Started

Two weeks ago I signed an advance contract for The Fifth Season: A Daughter-in-Law’s Memoir of Caregiving. The completed manuscript is due June 1, and even though my ESL classes aren’t over till the end of April, that still gives me all of May for writing. But what if something comes up in May and I don’t have the time after all? What if the looming deadline makes me so nervous I can’t write? I must begin revisions soon, I told myself two weeks ago. I stared at the manuscript on my desk. And then I went shopping.

A week ago I bought lamps for my writing study (a 6’ x 12’ dark hole in our basement). I put up a wall hanging to soften the space and control the echo. I stared at my manuscript. I bought a printer to replace the one that died immediately after printing out my advance contract. I stared some more. I sprang forward. Brewed coffee. Cranked the space heater, lifted the cover page off my manuscript, turned past the table of contents, and started to read the first chapter.

Three single-spaced pages of editorial feedback guide my revision. This is not about adding an extra twenty-page chapter or revamping the conclusion, but rather adding a sentence here, a paragraph there, a new strand about my family of origin to be woven throughout these two hundred pages.

I picked up my purple pen and began to scribble in the margins. How I can make the chronology more clear? Establish a sense of place that carries consistently through the manuscript? A note here, an edit there. Forty pages later the simplest areas needing clarification have been addressed. There’s plenty of work yet ahead, and I’m already hungry for the long stretches of time I won’t have available until May, but I’m writing. And I’m realizing some things.

On the days when I shopped and decorated my study and stared at the manuscript, my mind and heart were also at work. I was thinking back to the difficult years of caregiving, the hours and days in emergency room hallways, my mother-in-law’s lips turning blue when she wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I remember feeling stressed and anxious, as caregivers so often do. In the manuscript I am absolutely forthright about how difficult everything was. But now, three years after my mother-in-law’s death, I remember more than just the hardships. I also remember how generous Jeanne was, how intimately she allowed me to know her, mind and body both. And I have a perspective now I didn’t have as I furiously typed the hospice chapter of this manuscript in real time, sitting at her bedside while she slept a morphine sleep. I have a perspective now I didn’t have when I submitted this manuscript a year ago as my Master’s thesis. I can’t say at this point how the book may change in small ways, how my voice may even be changed in the revisions here and there, but I know when I submit the final revised manuscript to my press on June 1, The Fifth Season will be a better book. And maybe the book’s author will be a better person.


  1. I love this post, Lisa. One of my favorite things about you is your authenticity. I really appreciate that you can remember the feelings from when you were in the moment but also look back at those moments with new tenderness to see the things you weren't focusing on before and didn't truly understand then. I want to be like you in that. I am really looking forward to reading your new book.

  2. Thanks, Jeana. One of the things I love about the writing life is reflecting on past events. Sue Williams Silverman talks about the writer having two voices -- one the "voice of innocence" speaking in the moment of the remembered scene, and the other the "voice of experience," which is the voice of the mature author reflecting back, with wisdom, on the memory.