Narrative ‘Tradecraft’ #3 – Revision

This post originally appeared on

To revise, or re-vision, is to see again where our healing narrative wants to go. While revision is often considered a close cousin of editing and proofreading, each of which does involve a distinct type of “seeing again,” a true re-visioning has as much to do with the writer as it does with the writing. As the writer shifts perspective, gets stuck, grows, regresses, and otherwise changes, how he or she sees the writing is in a state of flux. What felt like a healing direction last week may feel like a misguided flirtation today.

As I shared in “Zigging and Zagging Toward Healing” this past October:

“Not quite two years into my healing, this sentence felt right: ‘At times, as I write, I feel stuck and confused – and at times, increasingly clear.  I feel untethered; I have doubt.  I trust some things and am uncertain about what I know.  I want to be done with it as I move through it.’ Confusion and clarity, trust and uncertainty: while my healing process felt directional and continuous, discontinuities were palpable – and healing involves both.”

My healing narrative had been cruising along, negotiating the respective dyings and deaths of my parents and sister, when I learned that my marriage was ending. My immediate response was to hit the brakes and pull over. When I gathered myself enough to begin driving again, I was pretty sure that my healing journey was heading in a different direction. Gradually I began to see again how I was driving, and even took a closer look at the vehicle itself.

We cannot know for certain where our healing narratives will take us. We can, however, develop our intuitive sense of what we need right now and if, and how, our current narrative is providing it.

One of the striking differences between how I was taught the Ten Commandments in my Catholic upbringing and how I learned the Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Path in my Buddhist reading spoke to the larger distinction between authoritarian and collaborative narratives. The former basically said, do this or else, while the latter challenged me not to take anyone else’s word for it, but to try this for myself and see what happens. This is not an indictment of Catholicism and veneration of Buddhism, but rather an invitation to see again: how we tell the story and how we share it matter.

If my healing narrative is a command performance, resolutely adherent to a set of provided rules that I believe I must follow, it will not allow for much, if any, genuine revision and will take me somewhere very different than a healing narrative that invites me to try some things and learn from my experience – not in ignorance of any already available learnings, but in collaboration with them.

What, then, is a healing narrator to do?
In many guided writing sessions, especially those in which learning to write is not the goal, a first step is to ‘freewrite’ (or dump on the page) whatever comes up with no worries about spelling, grammar, syntax, form or clarity. Just get something on the page. Don’t edit, proofread or revise. Keep any prospective censor at bay. Don’t worry about getting anything right; just get something.

This is, in my experience as a writer and an educator, a path into narrative healing that works. Once I’ve got something on the page, I can begin to see and understand what I’ve got and how to work with it, and then, as it and I change, how to see it again. The relationship between my writing and myself is indeed collaborative and cyclical. I dump, it appears, I reread and revise, it reappears, my perspective shifts, and from my new perspective, I see again where it wants to go and do my best to steward it. If and when it is finished depends on what my intention is for it, and how I define “finished” (which we’ll address in a future Narrative Tradecraft blog on Completion).

The relationships among revision, perspective, imagery, metaphor, diction and other tools of the trade are intimate and reciprocal – as are the relationships between the writer and the writing, the healer and the healing. The story I choose to tell and how I tell it impacts me, and so impacted, I see the story and myself yet again.

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