The Art of Revision

stroheim-typewriter

All writing is rewriting. We must find a revision process that works for us. Over time we may adopt or more strategies that make us create the best possible work.

Time is my personal friend in the rewriting process. I tend to fall in love with whole passages, sometimes whole pages, of a particular work. When I am too close to having finished the work I cannot bring myself to excise them. Even when I should, I do not.

Six months or two years later the difference in my feeling for the work surprises me. “Boy, this is crap!” This over text I fawned over at first completion. What I need to do to improve the text leaps out at me. “How could I have missed that?”

Emotions do that to me. The writer curries favor with the editor. The editor knows to wait. With time my emotions drain away. The editor fills the void with precision and excision.

In this series on the Art of Revision I want to share with you how I might improve one of my own texts. It’s all good and well for me to write some words and detach them from a process of revision used as an example.

Here I offer a concrete example of revising a text.

The Original Text

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” Frederick Buechner

I walk towards my mailbox, stop, open it and pull out my mail. There seems to be more of it than I expect. A slight woman hurries behind me towards the elevator.I pull out flyers and catalogues and a credit card bill or two. The elevator doors open. Still more mail appears. The requisite time elapses and in the back of my head I know that the doors will close without me. If I dally longer, I will have to wait.

So I close and lock the mailbox door and dash to the elevator in three long steps. At 73 inches I had always been a tall woman. The distance is nothing for me. But the width of the door opening only allows me to insert my hand to push in the emergency closure device open. I push harder than I realize. The slight African-American woman raises her head to stare at me.

Absolute terror fills her face.

“Don’t be afraid,” I want to say. “I’m not the man you think I am. I used to be a woman six months ago.”


In 1996, about six months or so before my thirty-second birthday I began hormone replacement therapy. I injected soluble testosterone every two weeks. Within weeks wispy locks of hair sprouted over my face. Muscles burst forth on my chest and shoulders. I ate for two people most days of the week.

Most importantly, my voice deepened. I needed these changes. For years my body and I disagreed with one another. Inside I felt like a man. Outside, my body said, “No, I’m a woman.” My body trumped whatever I felt and knew inside myself.

For years – in fact most of my life – I wanted to inhabit a body that felt male to me and also seemed male to the outside world. Until I mustered enough gumption to make the necessary changes to have my outside match my inside, I nurtured deep and abiding fantasies about living as a man: dating, dressing, ease of movement through public places, an end to the interrogations I endured from strangers when my voice – then high pitched – revealed what I tried to hide beneath male clothing and silence.

The Rewrite

For years – in fact most of my life – I wanted to inhabit a body that felt male to me and also seemed male to the outside world. Until I mustered enough gumption to make the necessary changes to have my outside match my inside, I nurtured deep and abiding fantasies about living as a man: Dating, dressing, ease of movement through public places, an end to the interrogations I endured from strangers when my voice – then high pitched – revealed what I tried to hide beneath male clothing and silence.

In 1996, about six months or so before my thirty-second birthday I began hormone replacement therapy and injected soluble testosterone every two weeks. Within weeks wispy locks of hair sprouted over my face. Muscles burst forth on my chest and shoulders. I ate for two people most days of the week. As my voiced deepened, my body no longer felt like it betrayed me.

All the physical changes delighted me. For the first time in my life I felt in a kind of hard-fought agreement with myself, a kind concordance of interior and exterior. This agreement brought with it a series of unexpected consequences, which I had not foreseen nor had other female-to-male transsexuals warned me about.

§§§

(Ed: This version ought to be in the past tense.)

I walked towards my mailbox, stopped, opened it and pulled out my mail. There seems to be more of it than I expected. A slight woman hurried behind me towards the elevator. Flyers for pizza, catalogs for stuff I couldn’t afford, a credit card bill or three leapt out at me like caged dogs confined too long in a too small space.  The elevator doors opened.

Still more mail appeared. The requisite time elapsed and and I knew the doors would close without me. If I tarried any longer, I would either be forced to wait for the elevator or ascend three flights of stairs. Neither option won.

I closed and locked the mailbox door and dashed to the elevator in three long steps as the doors were all but closed. With a forceful push of the safety door edge, the doors clanged open.

A slight woman raised her head to stare at me. Only then did I become cognizant of the grey fedora and trench coat I wore. Absolute terror filled her face.

“Don’t be afraid,” I wanted to say. “I’m not the man you think I am. I used to be a woman six months ago.”

cover for Moxie, Vol. 1 by Jay SennettMy essay collection, Moxie, Vol. 1, will be released January 15, 2018. Preorder your copy today at Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Apple Books.