Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Revision by Hamster Paw

So, there might have been a bit of a self-pitying blog post last week. Mistakes were made. The truth is, in this world, toddler effluvium happens, sometimes with the immensity* and ardor of a twenty-one page, single-spaced editorial letter.

The tot is now post-exorcism. The exorcist is at a heap at the bottom of the stairs, having given himself to the demons. I’ve left the child in the care of people without blogs and have retreated with my computer into the wilds of Pennsylvania, where I have nothing but an inquisitive groundhog to keep me company. I have a book to revise.

There are advantages and disadvantages to having a brilliant editor—mine, for instance, is a charming and able conversationalist but has this incredibly annoying tendency to read my drafts with tremendous insight. I have tried to talk to him about this delicately, but some people are just unwilling to change.

The editorial tome—for calling it a letter seems inadequate and we writers do strive for lexical adequacy—rudely requests that I take some of the ideas in my head and actually communicate them on the page. This is to be accomplished by fleshing out some of the characters and ideas, particularly in the first third. More, More, More, said the editor.

I have already informed him that the first chapter, as it stands, is the greatest first chapter ever written. He did not protest, and I am sure that means he agrees. It’s not simply that he’s humoring me, that’s he’s waiting for me to see the seams in it, that the things that he’s mentioned about that chapter specifically might actually need addressing. And it’s not that I’ve ignored these things—why, I went through the other night and added a phrase here and took out a word there and even cut out a half a scene at the end with the idea I might, someday, add something else. I can totally take critique.

It’s a start, anyway. My friend Laura refers to this as revising by hamster paw—going into the draft like a little furry rodent might dig into an enormous pile of wood chips, displacing some tiny things here and there, and then some bigger things, until eventually we’ve buried ourselves in so deep that we’ve remade what’s around us. I’m still in the tiny phase—it’s all I can see right now, and I can’t envision the wood chips looking any other way but this one. Anyway, I'm sure these tiny little hamster paws will accomplish everything I need to.


I have to go now. There is a word to be changed.

*My computer’s thesaurus has offered enormity as a synonym for immensity, and I am now shaken to my core. While the actual usage of that slippery word does, in fact, well describe the things my child produced last week, I am discomfited by the lack of precision of this computerized crutch on which I have so relied. Is there nothing left in this day and age upon which we can pin our guileless, tremulous faith?


  1. "Anyway, I'm sure these tiny little hamster paws will accomplish everything I need to.


    Oh, it is amazing what tiny little hamster paws can do.

    Though I suppose one might wonder, when staring at a twenty-one-page, single-spaced editorial letter, if you're going to need a bigger hamster.

    That's why revising by hamster paw also requires wine.

    -- Laura

  2. I am definitely going to need a bigger hamster.

  3. You've already got a big heart, Anne. But your faith in that and wine after 5.

  4. Now if your hamster could get her paws on a 50-ton earthmover, she'd be all set.

  5. A friend sent me a cartoon today. In the caption, the editor tells the writer, "We loved all the words in your manuscript, but we were wondering is you could maybe put them in a completely different order."

    Call in Godzilla-Hamster for that one!

  6. Debra, I saw that, too, and cut it out for a future Hamline talk.