The Art of Revision: Seeing your writing (and life) through new eyes.

“My pencils outlast their erasers.” ~ Vladimir Nabokov

I’m always reminding my students that “good writing is re-writing”. 

I push them to read their work out loud. To look for redundancies. Delete unnecessary phrases.  Re-order sentences.

This is only a start, of course. Revising is not the same as editing. A perfectly grammatical essay can still be trite, boring, or nonsensical.

First comes the vision, then many revisions. 

What is the essence of your story?

What are you trying to say?

What do you want the reader to think/feel?

Revision is an art that’s both gratifying and frustrating.

Revising a story involves assembling many, many moving pieces into a cohesive whole. 

The mission is daunting and best not attempted as a solo task. There are many revision resources to help you.

Deep revision, however, means seeing your story through fresh eyes. This is not easy to do when you’ve been working on the same novel for three years.

That’s where critique partners, beta readers, mentors, and editors come in. These team players will gently point out flaws in your game. They’ll notice inconsistencies, pose thoughtful questions, and suggest revisions to help you reach your peak performance.

Sometimes these revisions are painful to employ.

Like cutting out large sections, or crafting a new beginning.

Or saying goodbye to a character.

Or changing the ending you thought was pretty darn clever.

In order to revise you must take in the big picture…

and then re-vision the story.  

When your clouded eyes begin to see anew, change is possible.

The art of writing revision can be applied to our lives.

We can look back at certain chapters of our life and realize we had misread them all along. Light shines on the pages. Contrasting colors come into view. Characters take on new dimensions. Truths are revealed. This re-vision shapes tomorrow’s unwritten chapters.

Revision allows for transformation.

We all have stories we tell about ourselves. We cling to these narratives, even when they no longer serve us.

Sometimes we need an editor to help us see where to make deletions, insertions, and add fresh imagery to our story.

And sometimes, the best—and hardest—thing to do is to let go of that story and begin a new one. ~

Lessons from my Olympic Dad-Byron Krieger

My Dad, Byron Krieger, was a two-time Olympic fencer.

He also competed in the Pan American games, the Maccabi games, and many regional/national tournaments. He’s in 3 Hall of Fames.

Dad never boasted about any of this. Growing up, my siblings and I enjoyed hearing stories of his fencing days. He was clearly proud, yet his accolades were most often relayed to us by our uncles and mother. Years later, we’d learn even more about his accomplishments through reading newspaper clippings. 

Dad’s trophies and medals lined our living room. I liked to read the plaques and run my hands over the golden fencer figure on top.

Our friends were impressed, though we usually had to explain the sport of fencing had nothing to do with backyard boundaries. Once the kids heard about swords, their eyes would pop. “Did he ever kill anyone?”


A portrait of my father wearing his Olympic uniform hung in our family room. I’m sure my mom put it up.

Throughout our childhood, our father’s quiet but powerful presence emanated from this painting.

It’s funny how family pictures can become part of the background noise that you don’t even notice, until one day, after not having seen it for many years, everything comes back. 

Now, I can feel the weight of expectation, mostly unspoken, yet fully absorbed:

Work hard. Strive for excellence. Never give up. Face your fears.

Once, as a teen, one of my brothers asked Dad if he could wear his Olympic warmup jacket that hung in our front closet. His answer, delivered with a smile, surprised us. “No, because you didn’t earn it.”

Today, our father’s jacket is displayed in the Museum of Fencing

There were other ingrained lessons, too, mainly taught by example, lessons I still try to live by.

*Be the better person

*Avoid gossip

*Be kind.

*Don’t hold grudges.

*Treat all people with respect.

*Practice good sportsmanship especially when you lose.

*Deflect uncomfortable conversations with humor. 

*Admit and learn from mistakes.

*Don’t complain

*Be proud of your heritage


To honor his legacy, I created the Byron Krieger athletic scholarship for talented students who embody Dad’s values. 

Gabriella Hirsch

One of the special outcomes of this endeavor was hearing from children and grandchildren of Dad’s Olympic teammates.

The inscription on my father’s gravestone reads: Humble Champion.

The short phrase sums up a long and abundant life. ~

One Day At A Time? Imagining post Covid life.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, imagining the future seemed downright scary, if not impossible.

The undeniable uncertainty of the virus, along with the chaotic state of our society, seemed to demand we move toward the One Day At At Time, philosophy.

Planners and long-range thinkers surrendered. Those who had always tended to lived within the NOW, were more prepared to ride the anxious wave of uncertainty. 

Imagining a future safe hug from a distant loved one,

or a trip abroad,

or the sweet kiss of a grandchild,

was about as much forward thinking as many of us could handle.

Enough hope to light our way.

But thanks to a medical miracle, the world began opening up, albeit amidst continued divide and tragedy. 

A new kind of normal in which to navigate.

Some of us began to hope. To plan. To move forward.  To imagine a post COVID future.

Are you making travel plans? Saving for retirement? Revisiting your New Year’s goals? Starting a creative project? Moving?  Switching careers? Filing for divorce?

As we sort through the wreckage, many of us are re-evaluating our pre-pandemic life. Now seems like a ripe time for life renovation, no matter the losses. Even small repairs can reap enormous benefits. 

The uncertainty has always been there, just easier for us to deny. Worrying about the future isn’t helpful but planning, even if it’s just day-by-day, can get you there eventually.

This is how I feel about my novel-in-progress. I’m getting closer each day. But if I think too far ahead, I begin to imagine all the potential obstacles, the chance for failure.

I choke.

To temper the overwhelm that comes from looking too far forward, I recall E. L. Doctorow’s quote:

Pretty good life advice for us all at the present moment.

#Coronaversary. What have you learned one year later?

When was your last “normal” day?

What were you doing when the world turned upside down?

For me that was Friday, March 13th 2020.

Like toppling dominoes, one cancellation piled atop another. Our public school went remote. Our synagogue cancelled Sabbath services. Our town library closed. My gym and dance studio closed. An up-coming business trip was cancelled. My private students cancelled their lessons. My daughter came home from college (thinking it would be a few weeks).

Oh, and my son’s engagement party was planned for that weekend. 

I’m glad I didn’t know how long the doom would last. How many lives would be lost.

There is hope now. But our world is different. You are different. Hopefully, you’ve gained some things amidst all the losses. 

***

I learned the primacy of relationships over work and ambition. 

I learned that absence makes the heart grow fonder and stronger.

I learned how much I miss my grandchildren.

I learned that children are better mask-adapters than adults. 

I learned it’s okay to sit in the car and cry.

I learned to surrender to uncertainty.

I learned to expect plans to change. 

I learned how to teach lessons over Zoom. 

I learned we can build bridges with words.

I learned words I wish I didn’t have to utter: lockdown, social-distancing, aerosols, quarantine, asymptomatic, fomites, super-spreader…

I learned that family members can hold vastly different beliefs from me. 

I learned that when things are looking really bad, look toward the heavens. 

I learned just how wise my young adult children have become.

I learned that writing can sustain me.

I learned what I can and cannot live without.

I learned just how lucky I am. ~

Closing Chapter 2020

You made it!

Ten months of pandemic living. Through losses and suffering. Bravo!

Hopefully you’ve managed to dodge the COVID bullet so far, or maybe you were lucky to recover.

If you’ve lost a loved one to this terrible virus, I offer a virtual hug and prayer for healing. 

Thank you to those who’ve reached out to me privately. I’m okay. Anxiety and stress are creativity killers. Throw in a pandemic, a contentious election, remote schooling, job and family matters, dooms day news… who wouldn’t feel wordstuck?

We’re all relieved to close Chapter 2020, but the story is far from finished. There will be dark moments for us all to pass through as we turn the page.

Yet, hope now shapes the final chapter of this sad story.  

As it happens, the end of 2020 coincides with my writing the final chapter of a novel-in-progress: a project that has taken too long for my liking. COVID time only deepened the chasm between my vision and its outcome.

When the warm weather finally arrived during Boston quarantine, my despair lifted. I became determined to see the project through. I tried to show up each day whether my muse accompanied me or not.

Somedays, I wrestled with words until my head ached.

Some days, I spent hours trying to spin chaos into order.

Some days, I was left with a mess I didn’t know how to clean up. 

And some days, the jumble of words magically lined up, like a string of pearls for me to polish. 

Still, I have no idea whether this book will see the light of day.

There is editorial interest and a grant backing me—a welcome vote of confidence. Yet the road ahead, like our New Year, remains uncertain. I have no control over the publishing market, or the particular tastes of an agent.

Luck factors in, too.

What I do have control over is the shape of my story—making it the best story possible. I can rewrite the beginning as many times as I see fit. The story’s ending is mine to tinker with until it feels right—“surprising, yet inevitable”.

We cannot write our own ending to the pandemic story. What we can do is try to write our own new chapter by focusing on taking good care of ourselves. 

We can nourish our souls with art, music, words, and nature.

We can reflect on what matters most to us now.  We can make revisions. We can get rid of the fluff—those details that no longer serve our story.   

Writing and revising is a lonely endeavor.  We need the support of others to offer encouragement and direction. 

So, as you begin Chapter 2021, be sure to look for kindred spirits, whether nearby or over the virtual bridge, who will help you write the best story possible. ~