If it’s fixed, should you break it? Revision and the magic wardrobe

Printed papers cut in all different sizes and laid out in order on a colorful carpet. With a box of chocolate cookies for motivation.
Cutting apart a manuscript to find the story. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

A writing and interior design metaphor. My life unintentionally provided me with another writing metaphor this weekend.

We moved to Germany three years ago and kind relatives gave us two huge cupboards to hold our camping, photography, coats, linens and suitcases.

Closets are rare in Germany so wardrobes without magical countries are the norm. The cupboards helped us a lot but didn’t exactly fit in the space we had for them so when our family heard that a refugee family needed them, we decided to give them up.

Breaking up is hard to do. We now have ‘broken” the system we had for storing everything and it causes the usual sorts of “Why can’t I find my lens cap?” sort of pain that you get whenever you move into a new place. I’ve been missing my pocket compass for a couple of years.

So, was that dumb?

The new vision. Maybe. I hope we find a new way to put things together so we can use them and make our apartment more hospitable. I have a vision of everything put neatly away in some brilliant solution à la Apartment Therapy. Or of more joy in our daily life as promised in THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP.

When it’s worth it. I may never create the order I hope for, but a fresh attempt usually makes the apartment feel more like home.

Revision. The thing is, I get this same question from my internal editor whenever I’m re-working a piece of fiction. My internal editor can’t see my vision. “You’re going to make it worse.”

When it’s worth it. But attempting a revision of my novel is worthwhile if I can make its heart shine through.

Forgotten treasures. When I rearrange a story and cut it into new pieces, it helps clear out the underbrush. After we emptied our cupboards, my sister-in-law found my compass clipped on a bag I planned to give away. I’m famous for getting lost and I’ve really missed it.

It’s so nice to get a sense of direction. Re-seeing what’s in front of you can help, both in writing and in re-organizing a home.

How about you? Do you have rules of thumb for when it’s worth making a mess? What’s the tipping point for you? Have you waited too long to “break” something? I’d love to know how this works for other people.

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Laurel Decher

LAUREL DECHER writes stories about all things Italian, vegetable, or musical. Beloved pets of the past include "Stretchy the Leech" and a guinea pig that unexpectedly produced twins. She's famous for a nonexistent sense of direction, but carries maps because people always ask her for directions. When she's not lost, she can be found on Twitter and on her blog, This Is An Overseas Post, where she writes about life with her family in Germany. She's still a Vermonter and an epidemiologist at heart. PSA: Eat more kale! :) Her short fiction for adults, UNFORESEEN TIMES, originally appeared in _Windhover_. Photo: © Jane Joo Park, 2017.

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