Finding the Red Thread

Femur and the Revision Process

The revision process is my favorite part of writing. My initial flurry of writing tends to be frenetic and chaotic. I have an idea, I scribble it down. On occasion, it comes out with a full arc, a beginning, middle, denouement and ending. More often than not, it comes out as an outline to be fleshed out later.

These ideas come sometimes during my set writing times, other times, it’s while I’m out and about. I always have a notebook with me. The initial free flow of ideas is very exciting, though it can be overwhelming and insomnia inducing.

My muse can be sparked by many things. Sometimes, a conversation I overhear, a song in the background, something my dogs or the weather are doing, my wife. In my day job, I work in retail (cutting meat, no less) and, working with the public is an obvious treasure trove of ideas, characters and quotations. I get inspired, I write and it usually comes out really messy. Or, worse, it comes out, overly sophisticated and overly writer-ish

That’s where revision comes in. This is where whatever I’m writing takes focus and shape and prepares itself for completion (whatever that means) and for publication (if that is the end goal which, for me, it almost always is). The revision process is where my random thoughts and ideas gain cohesiveness. The revision process is how a jumble of great and not so great prose can take shape. I’m not afraid to cut or add anything, after all, cutting doesn’t mean “erasing”, it means “saving for later”. The revision process is where my best lines of prose, my most clever anecdotes, my most observant witticisms, my chaff, if you will, get cut from the wheat. My mind becomes a discriminate threshing floor.

Let’s take my essay Femur . This was an essay about one of my earliest memories, when I broke my leg skiing at five years old. I wrote a rough draft very quickly and found a lot of good things in it.

I also found a lot of excrement.

I submitted it to a workshop, got some advice and refined it further. It needed focus. It needed less of the parenthetical statements and run-on sentences that I am so fond of. I took out much of the writer language and tried to sound more conversational. I cut the introduction severely; I cut some of the extraneous details that caused the lack of focus in the piece. I found a lot of good things in it.

I also found a lot of excrement.

There was less, but it still reeked of excrement in parts.

Moreover, I still didn’t know what the essay was about. Why did I write nit? What was the theme? What was the red thread that writer’s and writing teachers speak so much about? Why would anyone, apart from me, want to read this essay?

I once again subjected it to a workshop. Afterwards, I sliced and diced, cut and pasted, groaned and moaned and cussed, and then it hit me: This essay was about love. It was about the sacrificial love of a parent towards a child and the love I felt as a child. I had my focus, my red thread, and I set out to refine my essay to show this. I submit it again now, aware that there is a lot of good in this essay, and probably still some excrement.

But it’s better. It’s closer to being “done”. It’s got focus and direction. By cutting the extraneous and really converging on the message between the lines and why I remember the incident (apart from the obvious) I was able to shape the piece into something I’m almost proud of and almost satisfied with.

I present it to you now.

For comparison, please read the original first.


When I was growing up, my dad was a youth pastor, professional speaker and musician and was often hired to speak at church junior high and high school retreats. One particular weekend when I was five years old, he was hired to speak and perform at a winter youth retreat in Mt. Baker in North Western Washington. This was the weekend, my parents decided, that I would try skiing.

We awoke much too early for my taste and went down to the rental kiosk. This was a privately run rental kiosk and, as such, we had more one on one time with the rental staff to get our equipment on and fitting properly. Since I was so small, it was hard to find skis that fit me, but, eventually we did and I remember walking out of the kiosk with giant skis over my shoulder and awkward boots, like heavy, molded plastic weights, dangling from my feet.

Once on the slope, my dad skied down with me. He situated me between his legs and pointed my skis downward. We went down several bunny runs like that. I was a pretty quick study and, dad soon let me ski down without his aide. I enjoyed soaring down the mountain dressed for a blizzard, even though the sky was absent of clouds. I loved the sharp feel of the snow bouncing off my skis to my face and the wind singing in my ears. I enjoyed the music of the crunch and swish of the snow under my skis. I learned that if I tilted my skis up slightly, I could stop or slow down. This was even more effective—and abrupt—if I maneuvered the skis into an inverted "V" shape. If I moved my hips right or left, I could turn and thus avoid trees, snow banks and fellow skiers.

I had just mastered a bunny slope and was standing near the bottom, catching my breath. I looked behind me and saw my mom lift her yellow goggles off her face. She couldn’t see me, apparently lost in the snow and the trees. And then I fell. I don’t know why or how, I just fell. My mom says someone crashed into me, but all I remember is falling. I saw my ski boot above my head, attached to my ski, whose tip was wedged in the snow. The bindings didn’t release and the torque of the ski combined with the angle of my fall caused a sharp pain in my left leg.

I began to cry and looked up at my mom, who had suddenly turned her focus to me. I wasn’t sure if she saw me fall, but she heard my screams and I watched her use her poles to get her skis off and rush down to me, which still seemed to take a long time with pain in my leg and ski boots on her feet.

“Bill! Bill! Justin’s hurt!” she was yelling, on her way down to me.

My dad appeared and looked at me and then at my mom. He had an odd look on his face. He asked her what happened and when she told him he said “He probably just twisted his ankle.”

After the initial sharp pain, the best way to describe how my leg felt at that moment would be as a dull, throbbing bruise; an almost nondescript pain. It was like I’d been punched in the leg repeatedly by a large rock. I was scared. My dad asked me if I could walk. When I said no, I remember him dislodging my skis, picking me up and cradling me in his arms as he carefully walked up a snowbank to the lodge. I could see the mild concern in his young face silhouetted against a blue sky as he carried me to our room.

Outside our room, was the main hall which was used for dining and the twice daily group gatherings. My mom made me take a nap, which she thought might make me feel better. I couldn’t sleep and after lying awake for a couple of hours, I grew bored and depressed. A movie was about to play in the main hall and I wanted to watch it. My dad took a mattress from our room, placed it on one of the tables and then laid me on it. I didn’t get much of a chance to watch the film because, before long, I was showered with more candy, hugs and kisses from the high school girls attending the camp then my five year old mind could fathom. My leg hurt and I knew that something was wrong, but I also enjoyed the attention.

It became obvious that my leg was seriously injured when it began to swell and turn blue. I saw my dad speaking to the camp director. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but my dad looked worried. I found out later that he was torn between his obligation to speak and perform at the camp or partake in a potentially treacherous drive into Bellingham to find a hospital and have my leg, which he still didn’t think was all that serious of an injury, looked at. When the pain didn’t subside after half a day, his fatherly concern won out over his business obligations—no doubt aided in part with gentle prodding from my mother—and it was decided that we would make the short but arduous journey into the city.

Getting me into the car was a trial, as I couldn’t bend my leg without pain shooting through it, and there was no room for my brother’s car seat if I was lying across the seat. I don’t know how we ended up situating ourselves, but we did, because I remember riding in the back of the car down an icy mountain pass. When we arrived at the hospital, dad ran inside and, moments later, I started screaming. I saw two men in blue scrubs come out to the car with a wheelchair.

“Mom! I don’t wanna be in a wheel chair. Please don’t put me in a wheel chair!” I assumed that the extent of my treatment would be to send me home in a wheelchair, where I would be bound for the rest of my life.

Mom soothed me by running her gentle fingers through my hair and telling me the chair was only to help me get into the hospital. She promised I wouldn’t have to stay in it forever. I was skeptical but, in the end, mom won out and I allowed myself to be escorted in the wheel chair.

From there, it’s just blurry snapshots of memory: the X-ray machine and being intrigued that they could look under my skin; the doctor carrying me from the gurney to a wall with terribly bright white lights and a picture of a bone on it showing me, and presumably my parents, that my femur had undergone an injury called a spiral fracture.

Later, I remember the masked and gloved nurses covering me my leg with stinky, cold and wet plaster-of-Paris. My cousin had recently broken her leg in a skiing accident and shortly before the trip I saw her cast. Her knee was slightly bent and it looked uncomfortable. When the nurses attempted to plaster my leg, I straightened it, and felt an excruciating pain through my leg. I began to cry and the nurses grabbed my leg tightly and bent it slightly into what they said would be the most comfortable angle. I was warned that if I didn’t take care of my leg and it didn’t heal correctly, the doctor would have to break it again and the process would begin anew.

I remember my mom giving me sponge baths, and, after I returned to school (I missed a week) my kindergarten classmates writing their names on my cast. I remember the crutches I often used in combat against my little brother. The cast was a fine weapon too, though it required high leg kicks, which I was not terribly adept at and would often result in me tumbling over. I remember enjoying the sympathy I received from my injury and the unbearable frustration at not being able to scratch my leg when it would itch. I remember the way my leg tingled and burned for a few minutes when the cast eventually came off and my skin was reintroduced to oxygen.

This is one of the earliest memories I have and I think now about what a sacrifice my parents made for me. I don’t know if my dad still got paid for that weekend, but I know he took the risk of not getting paid in order to care for me. I don’t know if we were insured and I don’t know specifically how dangerous the drive to the hospital was. I do know in that moment, even with the delays and the doubts, I never felt more loved.


Thanks for Reading.





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Comments 44 comments

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks, Carlon. I'm glad you read them both... and I left both for a reason. They both have merits, though this version is much much more focused.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Carlon Michelle profile image

Carlon Michelle 4 years ago from USA

What a great job you did this time around. It is more focused. I felt the emotions in your first account, but with the second one, it was nice to get the entire picture of what your parents were going through. They don't sound like bad guys in the second telling. Smile!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Edwin, thanks for the thoughtful, heartfelt comment. Much appreciated. I very much appreciate your readership!

Edwinoel Tanglao profile image

Edwinoel Tanglao 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

Thanks for sharing love in your family, PDX, and the truth about life, and I always thank God for his blessings, despite those times when you cannot escape the hospital or the doctor's clinic to keep you back in shape.

I can see the risks in skiing but its tempered by your choices, just as it is in life. I like better singing though, lol. But in Christ Jesus, I have never felt complete, cared for and safer. Everything that happens around me is his will on me, as I abide in him.

A lent life I have, to him my gifts and talents I offer, that he may be glorified. Thanks for the follow.

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Eddy. I'm glad you enjoyed this!

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

I really enjoyed and vote up.

Take care my friend and enjoy your day.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Rosemay. they did and do. I'm very fortunate. Thanks for taking the time to read both versions!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

DrTruthman, not overrevising is a great point. At some point, it has to be done, or it i will be perpetually revised. I feel like this one is done now... I didn't feel that with the earlier drafts. Thanks for reading!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

audrey, it certainly is!

Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

I read your first story and yes your revised edition is much improved.

It must have been really scary for a 5 year old, the things that went through our minds at that age, with very little experience even the simplest of things looked scary, yes the wheelchair must have been frightening.

Your parents loved you dearly and it must have been so hard for your father to renege on the job he had promised to do.

Thank you for sharing your story and experience.

Drtruthman profile image

Drtruthman 4 years ago from Harlingen, Texas

As an editor, I often tell writers not to "over revise". At some point, you just have to "go with it". Personally, I go with my first thought or concept just to see if it works. Sometimes we work way too hard as writers and revise ourselves into oblivion. You're a good writer and excellent story teller. I say,"go with your gut" but then again, I am an old newspaper guy and that's just how we think. I voted Up all across. Great job. Lee

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

I don't know--I would trust your instincts---isn't it interesting how subjective writing can be?

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks for sharing your two cents Audrey... I actually feel the opposite, but, sometimes the writer has trouble being objective.

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Sunnie, I haven't skied since I was sixteen years old. I never did like it much. I don't care for the cold and I have trouble breathing in the mountains. Thanks for sharing your story!

AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 4 years ago from California

Ok--so I must say that the revision is better written, but in the first version, there was more little boy experiencing and relating his story--and in the revision, there is more adult telling the story--to my mind anyway--just my 2 cents--

Sunnie Day 4 years ago

Justin I loved this story and you have awesome parents...What a great memory! One question do you ski? :)

I remember when I was in nursing school my son had to go to a daycare after school for like 30 minutes until I got home. It was behind our house. We could see the daycare. I would come home, wave to him at the playground, and go get him. One day my husband saw him fall on the playground and my son started crying..perfect timing we had just got home. My husband jumped the fence, and carried him all the way home. He had busted his lip...I am sure your dad would have leaped mountains to make sure you were okay..


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks so much, Nell. I appreciate that very much!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

well, susan, I hope you feel better soon!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Sue. I agree. This one is more focused and purposeful. It helps when you finally decide why something needs to be written :-) Thanks for the votes and comments

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

Hi, What a great bit of story telling, I totally felt for you, especially the wheelchair remark, I understand, it must have been terrifying wondering if you were going to be stuck in it, and ouch, that must have hurt! rated up! cheers nell

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Still having a lot of problems with it. Thanks for asking.

Sueswan 4 years ago

Hi Justin

I enjoyed your first version but the revised one is the winner, hands down. In the first one, I felt you were just telling about your experience. In the revised one, I felt that I was living it with you. This essay was about love and it truly shows in your revised vision.

Voting up up and away!

Take Care :)

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Wo3w! Thanks a lot, Rustic. Very kind!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Vellur! I'm glad you enjoyed them!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Jen, I'm glad you enjoyed this. I'm sure you';; find, the more freedom you give yourself to revise, the less daunting that task will be and the better your writing will become!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Tammy. Revision can be tricky indeed but, as I stated in the essay, it's now my favorite part of writing. It's very rewarding and interesting. It's a way to, as the word revision suggests, look at something differently and reshape it. Thanks for the kind words and the comment!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Michael... the x rays aren't mine, but they're pretty close. If I remember right, I was in a cast for several months so the break was relatively severe. I'm pleased you enjoyed this. Thanks for your analysis and comment!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks Susan! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I meant to link the first one to yours. how is your leg feeling?

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Wow. Thanks Tara. That's very kind. Thanks for sharing!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Andrea, thanks for joining me on the journey and I'm so pleased that you also have loving parents!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

hoteltravel I don't have children. I'm selfish. I like my life the way it is. it makes me appreciate my parents all the more!

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Aurelio, it probably won't be. it's rather unrecognizable from the original. Thanks so much for the kind words. I do have wonderful parents.

PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon Author

Thanks so much Julianna. I appreciate the comment and the share!

Rusticliving profile image

Rusticliving 4 years ago from California

I love the journey of your story and how you take us along for the ride. You write so incredibly brilliant. Your descriptions of pain, fear and love just engulfs the reader. Well done, Well done! Voted up! :)

Vellur profile image

Vellur 4 years ago from Dubai

Liked both of them. Voted up. Enjoyed reading.

jenubouka 4 years ago

I liked both, I kept flipping back and forth and each time I gained a completely different vision. That is the crazy and torturous thing I find about writing, I fret of touching it then again each time I re-write it, it transforms itself into another journey.. However, your introductions does hold merit to me on the importance of fine tuning "shit" especially when it is for a project and they just want "an interesting article"

tammyswallow profile image

tammyswallow 4 years ago from North Carolina

It is an honor to go with you on your writing journey. Thanks for teaching us how to revise works. That is a tricky thing to do. It is a very touching story.

molometer profile image

molometer 4 years ago

I liked both the essays, they each have differing merits.

Emotion is difficult sometimes to convey.

This was achieved in both. The frustration of not quite full mobility.

The x-ray shows a clear break. These can be very difficult to repair too.

The introduction itself is quite remarkable; where you describe the process, of germ of an idea, to quick notes to revision process.

Voted up and interesting.

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I read the first story and the revised one was worth waiting for. Well done!

tarajeyaram profile image

tarajeyaram 4 years ago from Wonderland

You are a beautiful writer. You have the talent to guide the reader from top to bottom. I did not ski before. However, it is on my list of things to try one day. I am afraid of having broken bones... Nice story. Keep writing. Voting up and thanks for SHARING.

Andrea333 profile image

Andrea333 4 years ago

I loved reading this for many reasons; one being that your descriptions allowed me to dive right into your memory.

I let myself feel 5 years old and imagined the fear you must have felt. I pictured my own loving parents and saw in my mind's eye how similarily they would've have cared for me as your parents did. Thanks for taking me on that journey PDX.

Voted beautiful!

hoteltravel profile image

hoteltravel 4 years ago from Thailand

Isn't it wonderful to have such loving parents? Most times parental love is taken for granted. We feel its presence only when we receive a jolt like this. Or, when we become parents. Voted up and beautiful.

alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

Well, looks like this hasn't been marked for a duplicate yet. Hopefully it will stay up through the weekend as well. I think at five, we imagine all sorts of things because of our minimum experience of the world. But that's why you had wonderful parents to help you through. Voting this Up and Interesting.

AEvans profile image

AEvans 4 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

What a beautiful story and what a painful experience. Your mom loved you so much and dad was so concerned about you. I would have felt the same way at 5 years-old if I had seen a wheelchair. Thank you so much for sharing the love for your parents. Thumbs up and shared! :)

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