Friday, January 18, 2013
This $#@*^ business of rewriting
Most "normal" people - and by that I mean people who aren't writers... - seem to think that writing is all about sitting down with a mug of coffee, a bar of chocolate and sploshing words onto a page. Ha, if only it were that easy.
I'm rewriting The Novel, yet again. I've been working on it since 2008. Yes, you read that right - five years. Admittedly, I was also working on another manuscript in 2008 - 2010 and - lest you missed it... - I was building a house in 2011 and 2012 - so I'll beg forgiveness for taking so long. The thing is, the time involved has actually been good - ideas have been mulled over, little darlings have been murdered, thoughts have gelled, plots have been restructured and finally, finally I think I'm telling, to quote my lovely pal Candy Gourlay, the "right story". But it ain't over yet, oh no, not by a long shot - and hence further rewriting is happening.
The thing is, most times we'll sit down and spill a story onto a page, only to discover that the story we've told isn't exactly the story it's meant to be. Instead it's a story full of warts and pustules and broken limbs and even someone else's artificial limbs - and it needs intensive surgery.
That process is one which is daunting, terrifying, challenging, but, if you're telling the right story, it's a process which is ultimately incredibly exciting.
While I love working on the words and making them perfect - there is so much more to writing and particularly rewriting than that. It's definitely not about sitting down and sploshing words onto a page. It's often not even about being creative. Usually it's about being deeply analytical. Both halves of the brain have to be working. Writing? An easy occupation? Pffft!
As Susan Sontag was quoted as saying in a recent piece in the Atlantic on rewriting: "I don't write easily or rapidly. My first draft usually has only a few elements worth keeping. I have to find what those are and build from them and throw out what doesn't work, or what simply is not alive."
Or, to quote Stephen King from the same article: "Mostly when I think of pacing, I go back to Elmore Leonard, who explained it so perfectly by saying he just left out the boring parts. This suggests cutting to speed the pace, and that's what most of us end up having to do (kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings) ... I got a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever. Jotted below the machine-generated signature of the editor was this mot: 'Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%. Good luck."
Candy has written an excellent blog post this morning entitled "Revising a Novel Has Nothing To Do With Courage" which is well worth reading (you can tell she's between books at the moment, her blogging has once again become prolific). In it, she says: "A novel is not...for the faint-hearted - it takes a LONG time and once committed, you've got to keep going till the bitter end. I should know, it's taken three years to finish my current manuscript. In those three years, I wrote 'The End' four times, pressed 'send' three times, and started from scratch twice."
The thing is writing is mostly about rewriting and the truth of the matter is we are constantly learning - we never stop (unless we're dead), and that means we're always honing our craft, looking to perfect our stories and rewriting, rewriting and then rewriting some more.