“Tickets, Please” and the Revision Process

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I read and enjoyed D. H. Lawrence’s story, “Tickets, Please.” It was a simple and straightforward story but one that captured some large and rather far reaching themes such as lust, jealousy, rejection, revenge and even (though the term is more modern than the story itself) sexual harassment in the workplace. It was, I think, also the perfect piece to read while contemplating the revision process.

While the introduction was long and loaded with description and back story, it felt necessary since we’re looking back at people from a foreign place and point in history. Lawrence took the time to patiently provide details, like the drivers usually being “cripples and hunchbacks” and the girls being “fearless young hussies… in their ugly blue uniforms, skirts up to their knees…”who “fear nobody—and everyone fears them.” Without these details, the story might have fallen short for me.

Lawrence really captured his characters and set them up in such a way that made the story relevant and timeless. I don’t need to know everything about the people, time period or environment a story is set in but I need enough detail to get me intrigued. Lawrence grabbed and held my attention by paying attention to the right things.

As I read this, my own story and thoughts on revision puttered around in my head. I wondered how many revisions Lawrence went through to write this story. Though I doubt he was overly concerned about readers in the distant future, like you and me, understanding it, it is clear that he wanted to make sure the readers of his day got it. This story felt to me like a sort of sneak peek into a world not many people knew existed or got to see. Plus, since this was written in the early 1900s, I can’t help but think Lawrence was breaking new ground with such gender empowering themes. But more so than anything else, I think he got it right (then and now) in the way he told this story.

He captures human emotion perfectly with lines like: “Then she wept with fury, indignation, desolation, and misery. Then she had a spasm of despair.” This is exactly how it feels to be dumped! Centuries may pass but that feeling will always remain the same. His descriptions are spot on.

And regarding the plight of women in this day and age and in particular the way these women bound together to revolt against this one man, it had, for me, a quality about it that was reminiscent of the children’s nursery rhyme The Little Engine (That Could): “I think I can… I think I can…” Not only do both stories talk about trains and have that “I think I can” message but both stories are also about something improbable taking place; the seemingly smaller, weaker characters (the women in Tickets, Please or the little engine in The Little Engine) conquer all because what they lack in size, speed and physical strength, they make up for in spirit.

I certainly see this as a sort of literary manifestation of the frustration and pain the women of this age must have felt.

Lawrence also landed on the perfect ending. It’s juicy and thrilling enough without ever going too far in any unrealistic or dissatisfying direction. It’s an ending that can withstand the test of time. I’ve always been a fan of the sort of girl power stories where the female protagonist succeeds in the end. I also love it when the bad guy (or girl) gets taught a lesson and the hero (or heroine) is victorious. While I’m not typically a fan of violence as a means to an end, I think Lawrence handled this well. It was shocking but the physicality was handled delicately and felt necessary. I’m glad Lawrence exhibited restraint by not taking the violent lesson to the next obvious level. I think it would have ruined the story.

I can’t help but wonder if his perfect descriptions came to him right away or if they were the effect of a few (or even several) overhauls. I also wonder if he got stuck on the ending. I can see so many different routes that could have been taken. For example, I wonder if any of his drafts included a version with the girls actually killing Coddy or turning him into a cripple to sort of bring the story full circle to that intro.

There was a time, before taking this class, when I might have assumed Lawrence got it right on his first try. Or maybe I wouldn’t have even thought twice about it. But now I think about it… a lot.

Even though on some level I knew better, I think I thought I was in the minority of obsessive revisers. I rarely picture other writers struggling through yet another revision. The thought of revising, though obviously necessary, is also taxing. It’s far more romantic to assume they got it right the first time. It’s every writer’s fantasy… isn’t it? Well I’m currently on my fourth try for one novel and my second try for another. As I write and revise (and continue to revise again and again) my manuscripts, they continue to get better and I continue to grow stronger. I become a better writer with each new draft.

Even though there have been times when I’ve questioned my sanity, some of my best work rises to the surface during the revision process. I never used to think about revising while I was writing. Now, thanks in large part to this class, I am constantly thinking about revising. Even as I was writing my chapter for workshop, I was already contemplating revising it and even overhauling it entirely. Now I totally get what Annie Dillard means when she says the process of writing and revision “are one and the same.”

Professor Hurt, my current workshop instructor, says to think of the revision process as re-seeing. I love (love love) this concept. In fact, I’ve been “re-seeing” quite a few things lately. For example, I’m re-seeing how I perceive other writers and their revision processes. I’m also re-seeing my own process as a writer. A couple of those 4AM Breakthroughs have even caused me to (re)see some of my stories in new ways. One in particular breathed an entirely new intro into one of my novels. And the constructive feedback I received for my workshop piece has opened my eyes on various levels, as well.

While I read and enjoyed “Tickets, Please,” I was aware that I was reading and enjoying it on a new level. I’ve been told that film students can never just “watch” a movie without thinking critically about production elements and cinematography. As a writing student, I am starting to think the same way.

I can’t wait to get started on my revision, though in a way I guess the process has already begun.

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