A Puzzling Note on Revising — By Nancy Villalobos, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

a bunch of puzzle piecesJamie and Pablo are bent low over a round table in my Transitional Kindergarten class. The pieces of a complicated cardboard puzzle are spread all over the table. They’ve finished the border (because that is my Number One Rule for puzzles) and have progressed to most of the center and large chunks of the corners. Only a few spaces remain in the sky. Working quietly, the boys check their pieces for shape and color, rotating them in the air, trying to find a matching empty space inside the border.

But then the boys come upon a tricky one. They take turns pushing and pounding until the recalcitrant bit has been mashed into a spot. Their quick satisfied grins dissolve into confused and disappointed frowns as they stare at the result.

Straightening up and getting a longer view, they expel a simultaneous sigh. With the perspective of distance, they see how their triumphantly hammered-in piece does not really fit the picture. The color and the shape are close, but not quite. There’s a better place, one where that piece will fit perfectly, exactly completing the scene. With determined fingers, they pry it out and look again at the panorama on the table.

“This piece was in the box, right?”

“So it belongs somewhere in this puzzle.”

“Let’s put it over here, so we don’t lose it, and keep working.”

“Okay.” There is a pause. “Why is it so hard?”

Other children come around and offer to help. A group forms, and the children work together. The puzzle advances. With a glance at the clock (the classroom deadline enforcer), I come over and guide them to finish before the bell rings.

Jamie and Pablo are five-year-olds and not (yet) writers, but if you are a writer in the throes of revising a completed manuscript, you can feel their pain. Likewise, you can appreciate the advice and encouragement of fellow scribblers and the firm guiding hand of a writing coach.

I’ve been doing this revising for a while now. Thank goodness for my writing groups. Thank goodness for Marni Freedman, my guru

It’s still not clear to me the difference between ‘rewriting’ and ‘revising,’ but at this point, it’s all the same ball of wax for me. I take the chapters from the latest draft and consider every scene, every point of the narrative arc, each word of dialogue. And often I see where I have hammered something into the wrong place. It’s the right color, just the wrong shape. Like Jamie and Pablo, I pry it out and put it aside until my search for the perfect spot is rewarded.

But sometimes, unlike the boys, I lose pieces—whole chapters and long paragraphs. That’s when I look under the box, sift through collections of nearly discarded hard copies, rifle the dusty filing cabinets of my mind. And sometimes, I find a treasure there—a missing piece the exact shape and color of the hole in my manuscript. Then the puzzle of my writing begins to fall into place. Enough of my discouragement evaporates that I can sit down again and pound out that latest revision, because now I can see clearly where it’s going, and I think maybe I can do this, after all.

In the classroom, I always knew I could learn as much from the children as I could teach them. I just didn’t expect such a valuable lesson in revising, perspective, and perseverance to come from two five-year-olds who don’t know how to read.

 

Headshot of author

ABOUT NANCY: When not revising her memoir, sending out query letters, and building her blog queue, Nancy loves being on Nana duty with Lucas, her newest grandson, attending Cavalier King Charles Spaniel meet-ups with her Tri-color Coco, or traveling with family and friends. Her writing has been featured in the Memoir Writers Showcase. Her memoir, Peru, My Other Country, chronicles her twenty years there as an American married to a Peruvian in the midst of revolution, earthquakes, and her husband’s untimely death, until an extortion call during the Shining Path terrorist movement forced her to choose where her loyalties lay: in her adopted country or in the land of her birth.

 

Puzzle Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Jackhammer — By Michelle Saint Germain, Guest Blogger for The Feisty Writer

a man jackhammering concreteI walked across the cul-de-sac to the single story house across from us.  I stepped past the demolished driveway, over the walkway reduced to rubble, and up to the front door.  I rang the bell, twice.  I wasn’t sure if the occupants would hear it over the noise of the jackhammers.

A good-looking guy in his late 20s answered the door.  As he stepped out of the house down to the dirt where the stoop had been, he introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Mitch.”

Someone shouted from inside, “Honey, close the door!”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, pulling the front door shut behind him.

“Hi, I’m Michelle,” I said.

“Rachel?” he asked, over the noise from the construction.

“Michelle,” I said louder.

“Okay, gotcha.”

“When will this construction be over do you think?”

Mitch hesitated.  “I’m not sure.”

“I’m asking because,” and here I take a breath, “I’m a writer.  This jackhammering has been going on for at least a week.  Over there on the second floor,” I waved in the direction of my house, “is my office.  I can’t open the windows, and even with the windows shut the noise is deafening.”

“Well, it’s the best way to excavate all this,” Matt said as he swept his hand across the front of his large, pie-shaped lot.

“It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew when it would stop,” I said.  “In fact, it did seem to have stopped for a day or two, but then it started up again.”

“Oh, at first we just planned to do the walkway and the front step, but then we added the driveway.  Then we decided to put in new landscaping, and that meant a new sprinkler system, too.  Anyhow, what do you want them to do, use shovels?”

“Couldn’t you get one of those little Bobcat excavation things, whatchamacallits, backhoes?”

“I don’t know; I’d have to ask the foreman.”  Mitch frowned.

“Can’t you at least let me know, is it going to be another day, another week, or what?”

“Do you think we like this?” Mitch said, changing to a more aggressive response.

Don’t tell me how bad you have it, I thought.

“We have a three-week old baby.”

Poor timing.

“Well, if you could just let me know when you think this crew will be finished, I’d appreciate it,” I replied.

Mitch looked left and right, as if he didn’t want to be overheard giving away state secrets.  “Don’t quote me on this, but we’re hoping to pour concrete next Friday.”

Today was Saturday.  At least another four days of teeth-rattling noise.

“Ok, thanks,” I said, turning to go.

“Bye,” Mitch said as he went inside.

As I walked back to my house, I realized that for the first time I had uttered those words:  I am a writer.  I picked up my step, noticing the bright blue sky, and wished I could whistle.

photo of the authorAbout Michelle: After a 35-year career in university teaching, I decided to try my hand at creative non-fiction. It’s been a tough switch but after three years I feel I’m making good progress.  My other activities include riding my bicycle about 50 miles a week; working out in the gym, swimming, and yoga; and taking my new puppy, Kiah, on long walks.  I working on a memoir about overcoming a lifetime of depression and I’ve taken up meditation to help me sort things out.  At age 69, I look forward to the years I have left to be filled with peace and harmony.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/construction-jackhammer-equipment-679973/