Friday, March 27, 2020

Writers Never Die - They Just Stop Revising

My last post discussed a piece of poetry I dug up from decades ago. Here's a question for non-writers - do you own one piece of paper from thirty years ago with your writing on it? (More than a signature, please) Probably not. Now a question for the writers - how many revisions do you have of your last work? I can safely respond to your answer with, "Wow, that's a lot but I'm not surprised." It's more than just sentimentality - the written word carries meaning for those who value it.

Remembering Bughouse Square and the author who captured it
The point is, our written words do amazing things for us, and eventually for those who read them. My little poem from thirty years ago brought me back to that little room, #3004, in the prison-styled dorms of my freshman year. Another piece I wrote during a disability stint transported me to a sick bed, reliving the moment I decided I needed to write more. (For more detail, see my post, Starting Off As A Writer) Again, that piece of writing was almost twenty years old, but those words capture life.

This has all come back to me as I began the arduous task of helping my friend Linda work through organizing her late husband's things. Newton, her husband of fifteen years, was also my writing mentor and helped me get to where I am now, so this was not a labor as much as a service to his memory. I posted his passing here, and spent a while writing through my grieving process. Now, with my social life severely curtailed thanks to... well, you've seen the news - I was able to help Linda with the process of dealing with her husband and my mentor's effects.

And just like that, Newton came back to life.

The first step we took on was clearing out all of the drafts of his since-published books. I guarantee that for every page of final copy a writer produces, there are five pages of edits surrounding the desk. Newton had several books published, so you can imagine all the recycling bins we filled. However, picking up one page not only brought his story into the open, but also brought his mindset into the light. Notes on character dialogue and word usage reminded me how he would labor about things like a Mississippi accent or just when bad grammar made more of an impression than editorial perfection. I found his last draft of his novel, Bughouse Square, which I edited, and there were my notes scribbled across the pages. Next to most of the edits, Newton placed a simple check mark. It meant he accepted my change and incorporated it. He overrode a few of them, but that is a writer's prerogative.

Writing is powerful like that. Sitting among those literally thousands of sheets of paper, a part of him was there as well. This may sound sad, but it wasn't. This was a chance to remember the writer I knew, the master chess player, and the storyteller extraordinaire, all while setting aside his last days where his health and mind collapsed. And as writers, we have the give of placing ourselves in those pages, so others may relive our existence now and then, and connect with us long after we've written the last word.

I also extracted Newton's last work, finished but unpublished - Circle of Evil - and in tribute I will publish it posthumously this year for him and his wife, Linda. And for just a little bit longer, Newton will live again. He just can't override my edits this time.


  1. But if you hear thunder while editing his work, you know Newton is rolling around because he cannot override the edit you are making at that time.

    1. Agreed. But since so much of my editing experience I learned from him, we'll be okay (today's storm front is unrelated...)