The art of rewriting

The art of rewriting photoPhoto by Matthew Payne at Unsplash

First drafts are supposed to be awful.

That’s what they are for. You simply give yourself the permission necessary to write badly if you have to, for the purpose of getting the bones of the story down on the page. There will be time for fix-ups later.

So you do this thing, and the story comes out, and there it is, staring at you. And yea, verily, in your mind’s eye it was ever beautiful – and it’s still marginally lovely – but now that it is outside of you it begins to be glimpsed in its true shape.

And there…are..imperfections.

Let’s see. This can be tweaked. That can be fixed. This other thing needs to go, really. Something else needs to be written, and added in, to add clarity.

You know the drill.

For most of us, the architecture of the town of First Draft is familiar, and I have no real doubt that we’d probably recognize one another’s FirstDraftTowns fairly easily. But a strange thing happens when each individual writer leaves the city limits, en route for the wilds of SecondDraftia. It’s a dimensional portal that sends everybody to a different place, unique to themselves, full or peculiar traps and difficulties that are never quite found in the same shape or form in any other writer’s world.

i.e. All first drafts are rotten in a similar way. Every second draft has its own unique problems.

Different writers react to the art and the craft (and it is both) of rewriting in their own peculiar ways. Some tell me that they enjoy the act of rewriting and editing far more than they enjoy the actual storytelling – because for them the telling of the story is the hard part, and now that they have that, in however awful a shape, for them the real fun begins, and that is actually chiseling this raw and barely recognizable slab of marble into a real Michelangelo’s David, chipping away one tiny flake of marble at a time until it is all perfect and polished.

Others, – and oh dear GOD I fall into this category – want to tear their hair out at the roots at this point. Because the story, you see, has been told, and yes we who feel this way can see that it isn’t without flaw, nothing ever is, but in some senses it is perfect, it has a shape and a form and a balance inside our heads, and changing anything tends to have consequences everywhere, and you are faced with continuity issues from hell itself, and AAAARGH.

It’s the difference in tone – having a character say something as simple as “I’m sorry” in a different tone of voice, an inflection that might change it from an empty phrase of cold indifference (I’m sorry but I couldn’t care less really) to a genuine and sincere sympathy. It changes that character. And it changes the way other people respond to that character. And that changes other conversations. And that changes what people might have known, and when they might have known it. And that changes the flow of the story. And that…

Well, you get the idea.

Before too long, you pull out one thread and you realize that it’s all falling apart around you and you’re scrambling to hold together in a coherent whole something that looked perfectly solid just a moment before. It’s like the cement holding the story together suddenly turns to jello on you and the edifice starts tottering precariously and oops, there goes a piece you really didn’t want to lose but argh it doesn’t fit any more, and dammit, there’s all those words on the cutting room floor and wasn’t there something important there that you absolutely need to salvage – or rephrase – or do something constructive with…

Pardon the mess.

And you know what the worst of it is? It’s that if you’re good enough you’ll end up with a seamless piece of prose that doesn’t look like it’s been tinkered with, that looks like it’s always been perfect, that it was born this way. A reader who never saw the original will never know.

And they shouldn’t, that’s part of the point, but while you’re in the throes of working as hard as you know how, trying your damndest to change your beloved tale from passable to good or maybe even from good to great, you know that this part of your job is always going to be done alone and in the dark and without reward. It’s just a hard slog. Yes, knowing that there is something worthwhile at the end of it all helps but in the meantime you’re working on your own in the dark with a flashlight held between your teeth and with the right tools always just out of reach in the shadows.

I’ve just started writing a new novel now, a story that excites me and could be even be something transcendent, an eagle, soaring high and powerful up there in the open skies.

It’s not even a first draft yet, but all too soon it will be. And then the dreaded rewriting starts all over again.

However much of a mess that first draft is going to be, the basic good story will be there. In the rewriting I will have to make it better, and it can always be better, I know that.

But still – it is one of those things that I will be glad to have done even though I will be far from happy doing it. With luck, those of you who might read it one day will never know what I changed, how I tweaked, what I had to lose and what it was necessary to graft on.

And please, for the the sake of everybody involved… if you should happen to see a little dust, or a stray broken bit of a past imperfection littering the floor at the feet of the completed story statue, be merciful, and forgive. And kick it discreetly someplace out of sight.

~~~~~
Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories.

Easy. Just touch the match to
– Ursula K. Le Guin

More from Wired HERE

~~~~~
If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway.

Bridge to history

One of the formative reading experiences of any child of my background and culture is the book “The Bridge on the Drina” by Ivo Andric.

Bridge on the Drina

 

It was a seminal work of historical fiction which goes to the heart of the formation of the melting pot that became a country called Yugoslavia in which I was born.  Andric won a Nobel Prize for Literature, for that and other works – but to most of the world it was a just a good book. To those of us who read it from the inside, it was searing. It was a reminder of a long and bloody history whose tentacles reach right to the present day and still pack a poisoned punch.

 

Letters-from-the-FireMany many years after Andric wrote his book, I co-authored a novel with the man I subsequently married called “Letters from the Fire”, whose subject matter was yet another war fought on that embattled piece of land that was once my country. Amelia Batistich, a New Zealand writer of some note and of Croatian ancestry, phoned me shortly after it was published to thank me for writing it.

Her true gift to me were the words that followed.

“It is the ‘Bridge on the Drina’ of our times.”

And to this day, the idea that I might have come close to emulating what Andric did for my people and my past makes me want to cry with humility, and with pride. And yes, sometimes the two can stand hand in hand and smiling at one another.
Drina BridgeWatch a video about the town, the book, and the bridge HERE

~~~~~
Reading loveI mean, I love reading ALL YEAR, but what the hell – just go for it – and I DO have some brand new books for people to pick up after all 🙂

~~~~~
What should I do?

Last year I went to the Rainforest Writing Retreat on the shores of beautiful Lake Quinault and wrote up a quiet storm – a large chunk of the novel then in progress, before I was blindsided by a short story which I had to write down right there.

I am going to try to do it again this year, even while aware that life, as has been famously said, is what happens when you’re making other plans

I am thinking about projects to concentrate on while I am there, and I have decided to see if all y’all have any preferences as to what you might want to see emerge FIRST.

The options:

1) The novel I wrote there last year was “Wolf”, the second book in the Were Chronicles series. That’s coming out in May. The third book, Shifter, is due by the end of the year.  publication date of end of this yea. BUT…

…there are other stories that have presented themselves in that universe. I’ve just sketched out a few notes, so far. But this might be a good time to launch into the first of those…?

2) Another Fat Historical Fantasy is long overdue and I have one in the wings waiting there very patiently. This is a distinct possibility. I could dive in and let the waters of this thing close over my head and not come up for air until it’s time to leave. And it will be a Big. Fat. Historical. Fantasy. Think Jin Shei.

3) Finishing up a half-written stand-alone fantasy which has been dropped several times. There are good bones there, and it might be time to put some flesh on them.

4) I am putting together a themed short story collection. Some of the stories are done but I need six or seven more. I could have a more or less finished collection ready by the time I leave the retreat.

So – what do you think? Vote in the comments, for #1,#2,#3, or #4. And I will take it under advisement… you have the rest of this month to make your opinions known. Which door…?

~~~~~
Dawn of MagicDawn is here
There’s a Goodreads page for the final book in the Worldweavers series, Dawn of Magic, for your reading and reviewing pleasure.

See the Goodreads page HERE

You can buy it at Amazon in either paperback or ebook.

While it’s like choosing your favorite child, I have to admit that it IS my favorite of the four books in the series. Go read, enjoy, leave me LOTS of reviews…

Buy Dawn of Magic HERE

~~~~~
8 tips for studying smarter

The way most students study makes no sense, two psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis say, according to a story by Joseph Stromberg at Vox.

Rereading an assignment, for example, is useless.
University student studying in library.Photofusion/UIG via Getty Images

Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel have spent a combined 80 years studying learning and memory, and recently distilled their findings with novelist Peter Brown in the book Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning.

Read what works and what doesn’t HERE

~~~~~
Is Being a Writer a Job or a Calling?

Benjamin Moser and Dana Stevens discuss whether being a writer is just a job or a loftier ambition.

Benjamin Moser:
Benjamin MoserThere is something dreary about wanting writing to be a real job. The sense of inner purpose…distinguishes a writer from a hack. Emily Dickinson didn’t turn her calling into a job, and neither did Franz Kafka…or any of the millions of writers who have never earned a penny for their thoughts. A defrocked priest forever remains a priest, and a writer — independent of publication or readership or “career” — is always a writer. Independent, even of writing. Writing, after all, is something one does. A writer is something one is.  (Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson )

Dana Stevens:
Dana StevensI still remember the moment I decided to be a writer — or, as I distinctly sensed it at the time, realized I would become one. I was between 7 and 8 years old, sitting in the lowest forking branch of a huge sycamore…I was thinking…the fact that books, those miraculous receptacles of meaning pulled off the shelf each night, were just objects created by people, and that when I grew up, I could conceivably be one of the people responsible for making them. Before that “could” was fully formulated in my mind, it had become a “would” — one day, this would somehow be my job. (Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson )

Read the rest HERE

~~~~~
THIS ‘n THAT

Well played

Native American Council Offers Amnesty to 240 Million Undocumented Whites

Read the story HERE

~~~
Beware the robots

Brain surgeons, at least, don’t need to fear robots taking their jiob.

Or do they?

Scientists have recently developed a way to use a laser guided robotic arm that enters the brain through a tiny hole in the skull, then use nanoparticles to remove the cancerous tumor, leaving the healthy cells untouched. The process is still go through clinical trials.

~~~
Meet the ultimate WikiGnome

One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake

Read the article HERE

~~~~~
Quote of the Day
Saved by a squirrell~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

If you found this blog post interesting, amusing or helpful, then please use the icons below to share it with other writers, readers or the guy next to you on the subway.
==================