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Peter Stipe – Snakes and Editing – April 13, 2018

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Peter Stipe

I hate snakes.  Regardless, there’s a lot they can teach us.

Years ago I had a friend who collected snakes.  Don’t ask why – she liked them.  She said she thought they were fun.  She had a big black one that she kept in a glass aquarium-like case in her living room.  She kept other smaller snakes in cages and other containers.  I will say this for her snakes; they were quiet.  I always hoped they weren’t slithering out and about in her house.

One day when I was visiting, her black snake began rubbing its nose against the wide plate of glass that covered the top of the aquarium.  I asked, “That snake can’t push the glass up and off and escape can it?”

“Oh no,” my friend replied.  “The piece of glass is too heavy for her to lift.  She can’t get out.”

I was reassured but I kept watching as the snake continued to rub its nose back and forth against the glass lid.  My host led me to the kitchen to get us some drinks.  When we returned to the living room where she kept the snakes, she and I were shocked to see that the glass plate had shifted slightly, apparently from all the rubbing by the black snake.  There was a space, possibly an inch wide, between the aquarium rim and the edge of the glass plate.  The snake was gone.

I set my glass down on a table and left.  When I saw my friend a few days later I asked her about her black snake.  She said, “That snake rubbed against the lid until bit by bit she shifted it enough to get her head in the crack.  That was all it took and she was gone.  I found her the next morning sleeping on the shelf in my closet.”

I’m glad I left.  I have no idea where the snake might have been while I was still there.  Under the sofa?  Behind a sofa cushion?  I don’t need to know.   But the lesson the snake taught me was this.  If you keep pushing at something long enough, bit by bit, you shift it until you get it the way you want it to be.

That’s the way it is with writing.  Getting the story down on paper is easy.  That’s only the start.  Then there are rounds of revisions with input from writer friends.  There is more re-writing.  Finally, if a publisher accepts it, the editor digs in and makes more changes.  That polishing is painful and takes time, but like the snake, if you rub something you’ve written long enough the story is set free.

Peter Stipe is the author of Finding Our Way; a collection of short stories, and The Art of Love, a novel.  Both books are available from Amazon and from  Peter   Facebook: PeterGStipe


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