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Second Chances: Rewriting Our Stories

cc_secondchance [1]We all have stories. True stories, made-up stories, or ones that are a bit of both. Stories we’ve written down and stories we’ve lived. Stories that make us laugh, cry, or shudder.

For writers, all of these stories are important in their own ways. The written-down ones are often just as much a part of who we are as the real-life ones.

Today’s real-life story goes something like this:

I’m writing this post in my home office, surrounded by boxes upon boxes of stuff. Boxes of junk to be recycled, boxes of toys to give away, and boxes full of things I haven’t decided what to do with.

Nearly seven years ago, I moved from Canada to Australia with my husband, one child, and few belongings. In two weeks, we will return to Canada, this time with four children and few belongings. Almost everything in these boxes will be left behind. We are starting from scratch for the second time.

Even though we’re returning home, we’ve been out of the country long enough to make this something of an adventure. We’ll land just before midnight. Maybe we’ll hold our breath just a little as we step into the brightly lit airport where my family will be waiting to greet us.

Will my parents look older? Will look older? As we drive away from the airport, will the city be the same as I remember it? Will my children shiver in the back seat, unaccustomed to the winter weather? Will we all be wondering the same thing . . .

What does this new chapter hold for us?

Even as life’s dramas unfold, our written-down stories refuse to take a back seat.

The other day, in the midst of my packing, I found a short story I’d submitted to a writing competition about a year ago. The story reflects some difficult experiences in my life at the time I wrote it, and I believe that’s where I went wrong with it. There’s danger in writing about things that are too fresh, too raw. We become so attached to the real-life feelings—and try so hard to make sense of them through our writing—that we simply can’t trust ourselves to be good judges of our own work.

I remember that just before I sent the story in, I thought this story is not as good as it should be. I knew it wasn’t truly finished, but I so desperately wanted it to be ready, I went ahead and submitted it anyway.

It’s no surprise that I didn’t find myself on the longlist, and re-reading the story now makes me cringe. Now that I have some distance from the work, I can so clearly see its flaws.

The story may never live up to the initial vision I had for it, because I can never put myself back in the exact same emotional place. However, I can decide to take the story in a different direction. A better direction, perhaps.

Sometimes we get second chances, in writing and in real life.

Honestly, I was never keen on the idea of moving to Australia in the first place. I’m a homebody. Adventure is on my to-do list somewhere near root canal and step-aerobics class. 

As we prepare to go back to Canada, part of me wants things to go back to the way they were seven years ago. I want to feel that no time has been lost, that everything and everyone will be the same. Instead, I suspect things will never be quite as they once were.

Although life won’t be the same, it can be better. I’m three-children richer and have many more years’ life-experience than when I left. In general, I like myself more. Like a character in a piece of my own fiction, I’ve become a stronger person by overcoming adversity.

You can’t identify the best ways to improve something until you can fully understand what was wrong with it in the first place. If I’d never moved overseas, I probably would never have become a writer and editor. I had a comfortable career in Canada, and had it not been for the lull in my employment when we first moved to Australia, I never would have had the time or inclination to rekindle an old passion for writing.

Though my former career was stable, it sapped much of my creativity and left me feeling boxed in. Now, as a freelancer I have the time and space to move beyond the boundaries of a nine-to-five job and re-create my life in whatever ways I want.

Moving away from home (and my comfort zone)  has helped highlight parts of my former life that I wasn’t satisfied with, and has given me the life experience to know how to make changes for the better. Likewise, taking a significant breather from an important short story has helped me see the parts that need an overhaul, and that means I might be able to make something beautiful out of it after all.

Second chances are gifts.

What story do you need to rewrite?

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Candida.Performa [2] 

About Suzannah Windsor Freeman [3]

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a Canadian freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, Sou'wester, Grist, Saw Palm, Anderbo, The Best of the Sand Hill Review, and others. She is the managing editor of Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing and Writeitsideways.com. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.