Writer in Residence · 07/27/2012

Answers? Part II

A linked list of all posts from Revision Month can be found here.

Today more answers, from the inimitable Sean Lovelace, who has written about revision on his blog here.

I am in a bit of a funk. How do I work myself out of it? Usually I do one of a few things: 1. Exhaust myself on Twitter and Facebook (self-disgust). 2. Go to the bathroom (change of scenery). 3. Drink some coffee (outside source of energy). 4. Send what I am writing to my Kindle and read it there (pretending my work isn’t mine/self-deception).

I used to go for walks. In his revision thoughts earlier, Ryan Call I think mentioned taking showers. I think of this, this having to get outside of ourselves in order to revise, as similar to a dream. We have to leave the dream in order to think of it clearly, but once we’re out, it’s easy for the details to fade.

I hope that this funk means I am close, that I can’t see much more that needs to change. After eight years, you get into a lot of funks, and it’s hard to tell what they mean.

I’ll be short today. Please, if you have them, leave your answers to these questions (or any other revision thoughts) in the comments. One more post on Monday, about finishing, and then Tuesday we’ll wrap up with what people have written in so far. The more voices the better. I’m getting tired of listening to myself. Perhaps this is the funk.

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Sean Lovelace on Revision

What was the best revision advice you’ve ever gotten?

Once while living in Knoxville, TN with a surgeon (I was his illicit lover. He knew how to grill pizza and was grizzled about the knees [Like many, I adore a grizzled knee.]), I took a very expensive hunting dog for a walk along the banks of the Tennessee River. (This was below the surgeon’s “hook-up” condo; most docs have a separate residence away from their families for this sort of thing.) Ah, spring. The river gurgled and snarled and slopped. Flowers, Mountain Dew bottles, a mass hysteria of blackbirds, the stench of butterflies, etc. I flung a stick into the water. The dog leapt in! I threw a tennis ball. The dog, bewildered, circled the objects — stick, ball, stick, ball — absolutely perplexed onto how to fetch two things simultaneously. He was swept downstream. Around a bend and gone. I assume he died of drowning and rests now in the heart muscles of the catfish that dwell the deep holes off The University of Tennessee’s majestic riverbank football facility, Neyland Stadium. I love that place; it is so orange! So. Always have a plan.

How do you know when a story is done?

I do not.

What was one thing you learned about your own work from workshopping others?

Ok, good question. I met this dude in Jamaica and we smoked some Bob Hope and ordered fried red snapper and palm hearts from this little beach shick-shack and he said, “Let’s go swim.” I was like, “Swim? We just ordered food.” And he said in Jamaica you order food, swim (it takes forever for anything to cook in Jamaica, BTW), then come in and eat the food with salty, tired hands. It makes everything come together; to make some sense in a land where you might see someone carry a gun into a daycare or use a cloth baby diaper (but a washed one!) as a coffee filter, etc. The food was indeed very good, but then again I was stoned to the Bejeezus-belt. So. Some swim in the salt before they listen to critique, some do not. Some prepare their bodies. Take note.

What is the first thing you do when you revise?

Well, I drink a beer. It lubricates the circular saw, shall we say.

What is the last thing?

Press SAVE. Then go squirrel hunting probably. I might hunt the outer edges of a field, the scrub pines, fencerows, you know, if I’m going after fox squirrels. But for a young gray, something tender, I’m just going to just sit under a big hickory and read a book and wait. I might see if my iPhone can pick up porn way out in BFE, but probably it will not. So, you know, the book. Maybe Infinite jest or a Judy Garland biography. Pitter/pat of a cut walnut falling like light rain. Shadow jump. Rustle of leaves. Ghosts of bent light, the squirrel. It’s funny how a city squirrel will damn near come up and fart on your foot. A country squirrel? You crack one twig, it’s in the next zip code, fool. So. I just like to do something physical once I leave the page. Shotguns smell amazing, too.

How has your revision process changed over time?

Anyway, it’s two years since we ended that summer as if to end all of them, drunk at the writers’ conference, swinging like crazy, and that poet threw logs over our transom, trying to get in and watch. You are still young and lovely, but I have worked those poems so many times, so many ways, that I’ve had to think about you and all we said and strain it through a hundred metaphors, a thousand iambic feet, trying to patch it into order with my cat, which has since died of distemper, and my wife, whom I like more than I guessed, and of course my kids, until I’d simply like to forget the metaphysics and say that I’m going to get outdoors again and pick some unpressed flowers. Listen, why don’t you go out and find someone you can trust?

How do you find the heart of the story?

I don’t believe stories have hearts.

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posted by Matt Salesses