Friday, December 28, 2012

Entry # 122 - "From Ashes: The Phoenix Effect"

Photo Credit: Alex Ketley 12/24/12 Sausalito, CA
In Ursula K. Le Guin’s wonderful essay, “Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?” Le Guin said:  

“Writers have to get used to launching something beautiful and watching it crash and burn. They also have to learn when to let go control, when the work takes off on its own and flies, farther than they had ever planned or imagined, to places they didn’t know they knew. All writers must leave room for acts of the spirit. But they also have to work hard and carefully, and wait patiently, to deserve them.”

I call this “The Phoenix Effect” because out of the ruins of a story under revision, a newer version rises from the ashes and it grows beyond anything I might have anticipated initially.  But it’s hard – for me as a writer – to let go and trust that something stronger and better will rise from those earlier, well-formed scenes and characters.  Cutting scenes and characters I’ve labored over and come to love is part of the hardest work in my writer’s day.

Recently I rewrote a powerful story that tended to over-power the reader. The revision process required the surgical removal of a character I particularly liked. But after trying to avoid this painful process for two years, the reality of what was needed would not let me rest, until I had altered the focus of the story.  The result is a stronger story. A Phoenix has risen from the ashes of that story and for that I am truly humbled by this process.

And yes. I often wait – though not as patiently as I should – to revise and to leave room for those acts of the spirit that carry the story beyond – into a stronger version of itself.   

As the old year winds down, writers tend to assess the results of the past year before planning their writing goals for the New Year.  So today I think about the successes and failed attempts of the past year; this is something true that I have learned and want to share with others.  Thank you to all of you who have read and written thoughtful, heartfelt emails about my posts.


Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2011 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

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