At our June Women’s Writing Circle read around, I read a piece about walking the same path that Virginia Woolf did before she committed suicide. The path in Sussex, England, leads down to the River Ouse where in 1941, Woolf drowned herself. I had blogged about this “Virginia Woolf’s Room of Her Own—a Writer’s Journey” after I returned from England in 2015. Now, I decided to use the piece in my new book about how writing and sharing stories lead to a freedom of being and meaning. So, I was seeking a little input from our writers...what resonates, what needs clarification, what needs revision?
Part of the piece read like this:
I walked the long and winding path from her quiet literary retreat down toward the river.
The wind blew through the may trees, just as she described it, “like the sound of breaking waves”...toward the River Ouse where she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in 1941. It is a good 20-minute walk, a long time to ponder one’s own suicide, I thought. How unhappy she must have been! But as the sun shone on the fields that day, I soaked up the source of inspiration that all writers feel when in the ghostly presence of a literary icon
After I finished reading, one woman said, “You’re holding back. I want to know more about that walk...what were you feeling?”
She was right. I had left myself out—call it the journalist in me, always the observer. Or maybe until I got feedback, I wasn't considering that my readers would want the “symbol” of that walk—one that they could apply to their own lives. If I dig deep, I'm not just writing about that path leading to the river, but the path of life
In literature, symbolism can take many forms, including: A figure of speech where an object, person, or situation has another meaning other than its literal meaning. The actions of a character, word, action, or event that have a deeper meaning in the context of the whole story.
I went home after read around and here's the revision.
I walk the long and winding path from her quiet literary studio toward the river. The wind blows through the may trees, just as she described it, “like the sound of breaking waves”...down toward the River Ouse where in 1941 she filled her pockets with stones and yielded herself to the river’s icy depths.***
It is a good 20-minute walk, a long time to ponder one’s own suicide, I think. An eternity, even if she planned it. While I have experienced depression and regret, it is never truly lasting. As I walk toward the river, I realize I’m a coward. I don’t want to die. I have, however naively, always hewed to the notion that each day offers a moment of the extraordinary―and so it’s worth it to keep going. The brush of Lily’s soft muzzle against my hand, moonlight on the ocean....
In Wild Mind: Living The Writer’s Life, Natalie Goldberg writes this about revision.
“There is a quiet place in us below our hip personality that is connected to our breath, our words, and our death. Miriam’s second piece connected to that place, because she slowed down. In her first piece, she was scared, so the piece was glib. We are often funny to cover up fear, but this quiet place exists as we exist, here on the earth. It just is. This is where the best writing comes from and what we must connect with in order to write well.
This is why I am a great fan of reading my work to others, or offering it to them to read. Readers sense something is missing. They want your heart, your soul, the bones of your writing. Symbols which spark their own imagination is one tool to achieve this. Anything less is pabulum. That's what makes revision so exciting.
What about you? Does input from others and revision help you improve your work?