Rewriting

Sometimes you can’t just stick a Band-Aid on a problem in your story. There are times when the simple delete key or the clarifying phrase fall short of fixing what is wrong. These are the time of the rewrite and they are hard times, indeed.

To understand the difficulty I have with rewriting, you must first understand how I write in the first place. For me, the process of writing is less about creating a story than about seeing what, for me, is an event already happening. I see the story in my mind and write what I see. There is a creative act taking place, sure, but that is all behind the scenes. The last thing I want to happen is the mechanics getting in the way of the ride. If I’m too concerned about how I’m doing it, what I’m doing won’t be worth reading. I see; I write. That’s what works best for me. I’m not saying that anyone who outlines or does extensive work before and during the composition is wrong, only that such is not the way I do it.

When I come to a part of my novel that requires not the scalpel of the simple edit, but the bone saw of the rewrite, I run into an interesting paradox. When I write the first draft, I put down what I see as I see it. When I rewrite, I have to go back and see that same thing, almost a memory, in a different way. It’s as if I’m recalling the birth of one of my children, only it’s somebody else’s child being born. For those of you familiar with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, it’s a bit like Roland’s conflicting memories of Jake Chambers in The Drawing of the Three–two separate memories of the same event and the agonizing knowledge that they can’t both be true, but are true nonetheless. It’s Bill Buckner missing the ground ball in the ’86 World Series and Bill Buckner scooping up that grounder and making the out leading to a Red Sox championship.

This may seem like an extreme, but for me it really is just that way. Rewriting is hard because it’s like erasing memories and rewriting them in a new way. Still, the more I do it, the better I get at it and the more effective the result is. I always respond positively to challenges and this one was no different. For this book, I had several section to rewrite, but I took time to reevaluate each one and decided what I could keep and what (usually most of it) had to go. This actually grew almost fun as I went along, allowing me to feel like I had more control over the story. I’m not sure if this control is good or not, but the result turned out pretty well this time around. Normally, I prefer for the story to be in charge, but there is a point, I suppose, where I must acknowledge my own role in its creation.

So, I’ll do another read of the book while I’m working on the query and probably over the next week begin the submission process in earnest. I’m excited about this new aspect of the process, but I’m more excited about being free to now start something new. I’m fine with the business side of writing–working my entire adult life in retail has prepared me well for that–but it’s the act of composition that I enjoy the most. I’m currently in Kentucky for my oft-postponed trip to see my daughters and will return to Tennessee tomorrow. This is my first trip up here since the massive ice storm and, even in the dark, the countryside more closely resembles the old photos of Tunguska–downed trees and devastation everywhere–than of my old home.

For now, though, it’s more cold meds and off to bed.

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About Lee Smiley

I write things. Maybe you'll read them.
This entry was posted in edits, Uncategorized, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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