Please forgive my absence from this page. My eyes have been wonky, which is terrifying, for someone who entered Kindergarten able to read with fluidity, but is normal for someone who just had two cataract surgeries. The doctors assure me that my progress is within the realm of the normal. In church at night, I can read well because the surroundings are dark and the type is big. At home, I struggle, relying on my own version of “predictive text” for the prayers that I’ve memorized, sometimes launching into parts of morning prayers in the evening or vice versa. When I have to read a menu, the words come out slowly and in syllables. It is maddening.
I decided that I would work on my granddaughter’s hat. a work in progress but not much. The pattern is simple — cast on sixty stitches, knit four and purl four back and forth across the rows until the thing is ten inches long, then drop one stitch per group and knit three, purl three, until it’s another three inches, then taper down to two stitches per clump, then one, then bind it off and stitch the sides together. Easy, unless you are having trouble seeing. I mixed up with stitches were supposed to be knit and which were supposed to be purled. And I didn’t see what I had done until the next day’s eyedrops wore off.
My work was going to have to be unraveled.
Unraveling the written word
Writers can relate. At some point in the editorial process, a writer discovers a past error, an inconsistency, and infelicity, or worse, just changes his mind. That which was written has to be unraveled and reconstructed. And the process is fraught with peril, because removing one thing shifts everything else around it.
“Books aren’t written – they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”Michael Crichton
When I started taking out the false stitches of my knitting, I found that I had accidentally dropped a stitch or two along the way. This meant going back many rows further than I’d intended and dredging up stitches using a hairpin and carefully counting everything by holding the knitting at a variety of distances from my face like an air trombone. The same thing happens when you change something in a poem.
The rhyme scheme changes, the meter gets messed up, the meaning shifts, and all of the sudden you no longer have what you had. I am convinced that Keats left “Cortez” where “Balboa” should have been in “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer” because one more syllable, and one that ended with a vowel, was simply too much. (You can read more about it here.)
In fiction writing, authors change names, and before computers it was much harder. Margaret Mitchell could not use the search feature to change “Pansy” to “Scarlett” when she was writing “Gone with the Wind.” Some of your work is easier. But some isn’t. Every writer needs an editor to make sure that changed locations, marital situations, number of children, and occupations in their novels are consistent.
In nonfiction, things have to change when the writer learns new facts. A family lie about where an ancestor was born, the true identity of the board of directors for a shady corporation, the true side effects of a medication and the research used to defend it, all should cause the author to rewrite and, if need be, re-issue.
Other times, you change your mind about something write writing. Part of my research for my third-semester project involved reading “The House of Happy Endings,” the ironically named story of the son of the authors of the Uncle Wiggly stories. The book documents the author’s father’s mental breakdown over time. But I read it just as I had been diagnosed with diabetes, and what looked to the author like mental illness struck me as a classic case of low blood sugar. A doctor’s look at the memoir would make a fascinating read.
Television is notorious for changing plots and re-casting shows without warning. One of the most notorious examples when the dream scene from Dallas that succeeded in bringing back a popular character from the dead, but at the cost of an entire season’s plot development. The thirty-one episodes between the death and reappearance of Bobby Eweing were wiped away like mist from a shower. Fans were elated. Writers were busy!
In our lives, one change can provoke so many more. In my case, I can leave the house without my bifocals, but not without my sunglasses. When you move a piece of furniture or move up a grade in school, paradigm shift follows. You have to re-examine old routines and establish new ones. This can be bad, this can be frustrating, yes, but it can also be very good.
Writing Prompt — Unravel Something!
Take a piece of writing that you are almost satisfied with, and change something from an early part of it. See what that does to the rest,
In a poem, does it change the rhyme scheme? Good. Maybe the whole meter needs to be changed.
In non-fiction, ask a what-if question. How would you have felt if you knew, at the time, featured, the things that you learned later? How does a new scientific development affect our understanding in other ways? When Pluto ceased to be a planet, school children had to learn a disappointing new phrase — “My Very Educated Mother Just Made Us Nothing!”
Change something in your fictions. Move your characters to another place or time. This will affect their diction and their dress. Change a character’s sex or speech pattern. Make a taciturn character loquacious and switch long paragraphs into pithy sentences to see what else changes as a result.
Not Just Writing
And, in your life, make a change. Drive a different way to work. Visit a different grocery store. Dig through your Facebook friends and check on someone whose news you don’t usually follow. Then, write about how this changes you. You might have an essay. You might have a novel. Or you may learn that you love better what you already do and have.
But you won’t know until you unravel the fabric of your normal day.