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Revision in Memoir: Pulling Baby Teeth

My youngest son’s baby teeth stayed in his gums for several years after they were expected to fall out. They didn’t even wiggle with nudging. His adult teeth hovered in his jaw above his primary teeth on the x-ray. Baby or primary teeth hold space for permanent teeth; however, at some point, they need to fall out. Our dentist suggested we remove several teeth to make room for his adult teeth to come in.

On the day of the extractions, the dentist injected my son’s gums with lidocaine and then wrenched four stubborn choppers from their place. My son’s face was scrunched up in discomfort, and the dentist placed gauze in the new spaces to soak up the blood. The pulling was painful and messy. However, a few weeks later, the white edges of his adult teeth poked through his gums.

Pulling “Baby” Prose in My Memoir

This summer, I pulled some baby teeth of my own during the fifth revision of my memoir that I started drafting in 2020. I cut some beginning scenes that were heavy with backstory. It was painful. I worried I would lose some essential parts of my story. It was messy. I had to streamline these sections and weave them into other places in the narrative. I was attached to these words as they were a part of the first book I drafted—my first teeth. I established a “cut” file as a place to save these words. I comforted myself with the knowledge that I could always access these words in the future. After I pulled out precious sections of prose, the pace and tension in my memoir improved. And the surprising bonus was new material that emerged to fill the space freed up by the revision.

Cutting the “baby” prose in my memoir made room for a more mature narrative. The blood and discomfort were worth it. So if you’re entering revision, don’t be afraid to pull out some of your baby teeth.