Visions and revisions…

Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

Did T.S. Eliot write that in his first draft of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”?  I think not.

Revision is on my mind because MY ESSAY JUST TIED FOR FIRST PLACE on the Women’s Memoirs contest!  (‘scuse me for shouting. I’m excited.)

The story, titled “Make Love Not War” in this version, is about my brief love affair during a summer-study abroad program in 1978.

The version of that story I submitted was probably my 15th draft. The essay has been in process since about 1992, when I seriously set about writing about my summer in France, combining snippets from my journal with remembered musings and additional research. (pre-Internet–remember “Facts on File” publications at a thing called the Library?) The first version I considered “final” (i.e. good enough to let others read), some 10,000 words in three chapters, was a flop. Combining my journal bits written at 21 and my 36-year-old musings could work, but in that draft, it didn’t.

In 2007 I tried taking one thread of that summer’s stories and developing it for a contest entry. I didn’t arrive at a version I liked, but I have worked on the story on and off ever since. When Women’s Memoir announced its July 2011 contest them of “Independence Day” I knew I had to take another crack at this. But what was the story really ABOUT? What did it  MEAN? A satisfying ending still eluded me.

Fellow writers Marilyn Gardner, Linda Lenzke, and Chris Connolly read drafts and made suggestions. I didn’t find the ending I was looking for until all three had given me their input. Finally, I saw where it was going… and the ending clicked into place. I am so pleased that Matilda Butler and Kendra Bonnett of Women’s Memoir thought it worthy to publish.

A line from Eliot’s poem that precedes those quoted above goes, “There will be time to murder and create….”  How many lines did I create–than murder–then create again, between 1992 and 2011? It’s a good thing they were electronic–otherwise I might be buried under the pile.

Visions and revisions. That’s what writing’s all about. The process can be painful but once in a blue moon it leads you to a pleasure like the feeling I got when I heard my story was FINALLY a winner.

-Sarah White

Sarah and Halim, Summer 1978

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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3 Responses to Visions and revisions…

  1. Sarah White says:

    For more helpful advice on “vision and revision,” this post on is a winner.


  2. Congratulations, Sarah. I love your interesting, candid account of your summer romance in France. Good detail throughout and, yes, you DID come up with a satisfying ending. I particularly liked this part: “In the next days I roll the flavor of missing my lover around on my palate like an unfamiliar taste.” Yummy.

    And this blog post is so valuable for writers who don’t realize that GOOD work takes HARD work.
    –Dawn Thurston


  3. I forgot to mention the 70s photo…it’s priceless.


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