BWS 11.07.22 report: Revision and the Four Seasons of Story

Jessica Outram is Cobourg’s 4th Poet Laureate. She is a Métis writer and educator with roots in the Georgian Bay Métis Community. She works by day as Principal of Indigenous Education, supporting all schools, for the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board. Jessica is co-host of The Hummingbird Podcast, a weekly podcast about identity, healing and wellness, the spirit of place, and the pull of mystery. She recently published her first collection of poetry with Piquant Press, The Thing with Feathers. In Spring 2023, her first children’s novel will be released by Second Story Press, Bernice and the Georgian Bay Gold.

What Do the Four Seasons Teach Us About Revision?

By Jessica Outram

Nature has many lessons to offer writers. Lately I’ve been thinking about the four seasons and the lessons from them that connect to the writing process. Like this process, the seasons follow a cycle. Each season directs our behaviours and interactions.

Imagine you’ve been writing a while now, exploring forms and following stories. One day you decide this story will become something more. You enter into a revision process, an opportunity to see again. You return to the early writing of this story and re-engage using the seasons as a guide. Give each season enough time to fully realize its potential. Pay close attention to the transitions from one season to the next and how you will shift and adapt.

In the spring, consider why this story and why this form? Why did this story first find you? What about this story was important to you? This is a time to ask and answer all the ‘why’ questions. Free-write using questions to open the portal. Step into springtime. Revisit the story with curiosity, an open heart and open eyes. Be open to surprise. Watch for new ideas to bud. Connect to your inspiration. Define your form (will it be a play or a poem or a novel?). This is where you fully commit to the project. Your relationship with the project changes and as you work through the ‘why questions’ you can’t imagine your life without this story.

The transition to summer is easy. The days get warmer. Your relationship with the story is like a hot summer romance. You spend every day together now, lingering in playing with scenes or phrases. You may even feel like you’ve arrived as a writer. You are in love with this project. Your creativity blooms like a field of wildflowers. The story moves like a river. The project is fully alive. This is a lovely time for a writer. When I think of writing and everything I love about writing, it’s always the summer of writing that I’m thinking about. Sometimes we may choose to linger in summer for years.

Fall is about letting go. We often resist this transition. This is when we begin to prepare to share the story with others. It won’t be yours for much longer. Consider the audience and shape the story to meet their needs, too. What is your dream for this story? Who will enjoy it? Who needs it? What changes does this story need so it can impact readers? We pay attention to style and polish. We tend to the technical elements of craft. We check the facts and the plausibility of each scene. We share finished drafts with our writing group for feedback. And when we are done, our project glows with the radiance of October leaves. We know that soon it will be time to give the story to others.

By winter, we’ve often forgotten the warmth and joy of summer. It’s time to send the story out into the world. We don’t feel as close to it as we did in the other seasons. Sometimes we forget a scene or a character’s name or we read a whole page and wonder how/when we wrote it. We have spent so much time with the story, the writing has frozen. It’s time to share the story, to publish. Some days feel like a blizzard with gusting winds of uncertainty and blinding views of possibilities. To thrive in winter we seek out the company of friends. We collaborate with people we know (and people we don’t know) to publish. We learn about marketing and bookselling. What actions do you need to take to share this story with others? Who will help you along the way? And then, one day we notice the way the sun lights up the snow and find joy in the frost on the branches. Winter is a time of darkness and it is a time of light. When the story finds its way to the readers who need it most, we are already lost in springtime working on another project.


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