Monday, September 21, 2009

The Task of Revising With A Mentor

This past week I set out to revise a short story for packet three, due back to my mentor on September 28th. I began the week were I left off in the previous blog–miserable. However, thanks to a phone conversation with my mentor, I went from being stymied and blocked, thinking I was a one trick pony, doomed to regurgitate the same shit, to feeling free and light and good about my writing, my ideas, and that I am capable of more, that I can rise to the expectations/suggestions given to me.

In looking back at the moments that I have been blocked this year, I see that the block usually occurs in the second draft. The first draft is the love ‘fest of "I am just writing, and it’s pouring out of me and yay, I love the sound of my own voice." Then, I show this draft to my mentor whose job it is to pull it apart, expose each individual piece that holds it together, deconstruct it so that it becomes fragmented and its parts exposed.  When I viewed all its separate parts– its guts out on the operating table– I felt like, how the hell will I ever put this back together?

The process of revising with a mentor is like when you take your car in for just this minor thing like an oil change, but after the mechanic looks at it, he/she tells you fourteen different things must be replaced or fixed. Now you have to digest that news, get mad, and point your finger at the mechanic. Maybe you accuse him of taking advantage of the fact the you know nothing about cars and that he’s making all this up because it was perfectly fine before you brought it  in!  Translated: I showed you this piece, which I felt like I really understood–I felt like I was giving you something that was this certain plot and this certain theme and now, you turn around and tell me it may not really be this certain plot and theme. The only difference between the mechanic and my mentor is, I never thought my story was perfectly fine before I showed it to her. I did anticipate a bit more than an oil change. Maybe a tire rotation, too. However, I had no idea fourteen things were wrong with my story and that it needed such major work. While I didn’t have the distrust that one might have of a mechanic, I did feel like those fourteen things my mentor wanted me to fix were unfixable and that perhaps I should just get rid of the story.

Reading the notes from my mentor, I felt like I did years ago when Mike and I inherited a car from his parents...and all its mechanical needs and problems. Over the two years of owning that vehicle, we spent thousands of dollars on repairs. By the second year, when, after an oil change the mechanic told me we needed to shell out another four grand, I said forget it.  And, as I looked at my story, I had the same reaction to hearing that news about that car–I wanted to get rid of it. I had had enough. The cost to repair was too high.

Here’s where the comparison between our money sucking car and my story ends: While we did sell that car, I did not get rid of my story. Instead, I reached out for my mentor, for advice about what to do. Perhaps Mike and I should have done the same with the car, and maybe we wouldn’t have wasted all the time and money we did. Maybe we could have sold it earlier and not spent two years frustrated and angry–the irony of that is my in laws kept telling us to sell it and buy a new car...which we eventually did, two years later.  Lesson learned.  Listen to people who know...listen carefully.

When I spoke with my mentor and told her how I felt, she said something like “The story isn’t in this state of disrepair you think it is. Look at all the parts you do have, that are working, that you are in touch with.” In other words, I did have a car worth saving and repairing. I just needed to get the oil changed, the tires rotated, and replace some fluids and maybe the brake pads. Big deal. Every car needs those repairs eventually. Most importantly, the cost to repair was not equal to purchasing a new car, so I might as well get it fixed.

My mentor and I spoke last Monday night, and by Friday I was done with my rewrite. I listened to her completely. I took her advice to heart. I think it was my mentor’s ability to normalize my fears and feelings about the revision that made me able to let go of the mental blocks I had about the story. It was also her validation and affirmation that I was able to work through the block and also that the story was worth saving– I did have a “solid engine”  and no need for a new car. 


Anonymous said...

I completely understand, and yes, it does seem to be normal. I had the same reaction last semester (or was it earlier this semester since I'm on the extended semester option?) Anyway, it took me deciding that I want to tell this story, I need to tell this story, in order for me to get back to it and actually be excited about it. Don't get me wrong; there are many times when I sit down to write and think this sucks - writing in general, my writing, this novel that seems like it will never be finished...Then I think about how far it's come, the story, and how far I've come as a writer from my first submission to the program (a MUCH different version of the story I have now) and I think that it's all worth it. This hell we put ourselves in is worth it.

I'm not as happy with this most recent packet I sent off, BUT it got me thinking about what I didn't like about it and then how to change it. So I'm at least learning something from the whole process.

Ay yi yi...I've rambled enough...Just wanted to basically say, you're not alone, you're a great writer with great stories stewiing around in that crazy brain of yours. So keep at it, and if you need a few encouraging words, give a shout out. I'd be more than happy to give you a pep talk. :-) And just think...If they didn't think you could do it, if they didn't think you could handle it, they wouldn't push you so hard. If they didn't, would you do it yourself? Probably not quite as much (at least I know I wouldn't). We'll get there!!

*hugs* Miss you and can't wait to see you and read more of your work in January!!

Joanne Carnevale said...

Isn't writing awesome? A writer can be frustrated to the point of throwing away work; then, a few words from the right source can part the clouds to reveal the sun.

Thanks for shedding light on this amazing process.