Manuscript and Richard's pen

Bless the Birds update

Whoever said writing is 90 percent revising had it right.

That’s where I am with Bless the Birds. Revising. Oddly, I don’t mind it. It’s not easy, but I find each pass through the story satisfying. As I dig deeper and refine, I learn more too.

Manuscript and Richard's pen My revising pen is one of Richard’s, appropriate for a memoir about our final journey together.

Why am I revising? Because the story needs to grow more reflective and more universally meaningful.

The agent I’m working with read my draft and had thoughtful and positive comments. She admires the love story, the respect it shows between Richard and I, the science, and the connection with nature that was such a renewing force for us as we walked with his brain cancer.

What it’s missing, she said, is harder to articulate. I’m paraphrasing, but it’s basically the why-we-should-care-about-this-particular story.

Richard and Susan in the Tularosa Basin of Southern New Mexico, around 1992. Richard and Susan in the Tularosa Basin of Southern New Mexico, around 1992.

Yeah, it’s full of love and respect, and tender treatment of an “incurably unsolvable” crisis that ended a life. Yeah, it’s beautifully written and evocative.

But what I learned along the way needs strengthening. That’s what memoir is all about: a reflection on a life story and what can be learned from it–not just for me, but for every reader.

So I’m going back and strengthening that reflective voice. As my agent said, “With memoir, we play with time.” Meaning we can talk about what we’ve learned as the story unfolds, even though we may not have recognized the learnings until later.

We turn the mirror on our experience in a way that readers can see how it applies to their lives too. For instance, we come right out and say,

Seeing my love in the hospital was deeply unnerving, disturbing balances I built my life on. In close relationships, we make unconscious adjustments to accommodate each others’ strengths and weaknesses. As a friend put it, “We are each others’ other half.” Part of Richard’s half, although I had never thought of it this way before, was protecting me, allowing me to think of myself as strong and independent. I had been once. I thought of myself that way still.

But was I?

At the very least, I was out of practice handling everything myself. Richard and I had things divided up so well that we didn’t even think about who did what. He was always there to take over what he did best–think incisively, understand the details, lift heavy things, shepherd us when I was tired, design and build, carry the half I couldn’t. Our “we” worked smoothly because there were two of us to deal with everything. Could I manage on my own? Sitting beside his bed, I wasn’t sure. And I didn’t particularly want to find out.

Oh, and I need to revise without making the memoir longer. Which means I’ve got to find and cut words, sentences and paragraphs that don’t make the story strong.

Holding hands even at the end.... Holding hands even at the end….

Not an easy task. But very, very satisfying as the story gains depth and authenticity. As the main characters become more real, more vulnerable and complex, more fully human.

That authenticity, that finding the inner truths is what makes writing matter. Because it makes readers care.


Casper, Wyoming, workshop with Lauren Springer Ogden (and me!) Casper, Wyoming, workshop with Lauren Springer Ogden (and me!)

For the next six weeks because I’m going to be on the road a lot, teaching wildscaping workshops for the Habitat Hero project. If you’re in Colorado or Wyoming, check my calendar and sign up to learn how your garden can nurture songbirds and pollinators, and help us restore earth one landscape at a time.