by Lisa Bullard
San Francisco has an eerie quality of reinvention that is unique to that city for me. When I make return visits to other destinations, the visual “pieces” from each trip start to ﬁt together like giant jigsaw puzzles, and eventually I form an integrated picture of the whole place.
But despite the number of times I’ve visited San Francisco, each new visit feels as if I’m seeing someplace new: the city feels completely remade to me. It’s as if, between my visits, the curtain goes down and they replace the stage set.
If only I could bottle it, this San Francisco syndrome would be enormously useful to writers. The ability to successfully revise requires the ability to return to a work-in-progress as if you’ve never seen it before. But this can be incredibly difficult. We become attached to the work as it is already written and, when we revisit it, we notice only how easily it ﬁts together, instead of being able to truly “re-vision” it.
Sometimes, however, all it takes is time away. One of the best tactics I’ve found to aid a fresh look is something I call “putting it in the drawer.” If I set a piece aside completely, ignoring it for several weeks, I often ﬁnd that during my absence from it the set changers of my imagination go to work. When I return to the piece, I’m able to tackle the revising task with far greater objectivity and skill.
I know from experience how reluctant students usually are to revise their writing. Why not try my simple San Francisco trick? Ask them to set the work aside for a week or more. When they ﬁnally come back to it, they are more likely to return with a fresh set of eyes.