On The ReWrite Part One
On the Rewrite
William C. Knott wrote in The Craft of Fiction that “anyone can write – and almost everyone you meet these days is writing. However, only the writers know how to rewrite. It is this ability alone that turns the amateur into a pro.” If this is true then I am a pro, where’s my check? I know that the rewrite is the essential part of writing but I hate rewriting. I don’t love the story the second time like I did when I conceptualized, thought it out and wrote it.
What is hardest for me is letting go of my original attraction to the story. They usually come to me as an image, an collection of people and situations I create in my mind that blend together and become the story. When I start rewriting and changing it I feel offended, betrayed by my own mind. How can this be any better? I have to fight off the urge to edit it, make small changes and copy/paste big chunks back into it.
It is best, I have been told but also have learned by trial and error, that you should put the story away once its written. For days or months (or years), long enough to lose the love. You can’t cut up, tear apart and rewrite a story you’re still in love with. So simply put, unless you have a professional agent and a hefty advance you have already cashed, what’s the hurry? You have to be your starchiest critic and only when you can recognize something as weak or passive or expository will you be able to correct it and make the story stronger. No one else can do that for you.
My biggest challenge, and one I like, is that I’m a discovery writer. I cannot map fine details about the story until I have written it, or I’m well into writing it. The story always changes along the way, and the characters become better developed as you write. That happens to everyone. Look at the primary characters at the beginning of the story in you first draft then skip to somewhere deep into the story and look at them. Chances are good you will want to go back and pull some of the strength and definition of the later character to the front. You will also have a clearer idea and vision of the friction between the characters and what they have to lose. You can go back to the beginning and build them up so the fall or the loss they face is much greater. That’s what I did when I paused to read my latest story, which I am crazily (notice the bad use of adverb there) posting online as I write it. I had to go back and redo the opening; it was nowhere near as strong as it needed to be for the protagonist to be sympathetic. This was the earliest I had ever rewritten something that didn’t have a deadline.
So, my $5 worth of advice: Write the story; all of it, completely right to the end. Read it, love it, share it. Solicit comments and feedback from other writers (not family or friends unless the spouse is a writer). Post it or a sample of it online and take note of the comments. Then put it away. Do something else, read, play golf, walk the dog. Re-read the manuscript when you can’t remember the story and read it to the end, mark the crap out of it, do it on paper so you’re not tempted to start editing it. The rewrite the story from the beginning.
The process requires re-visioning, a complete retelling of the story. The beauty of this stage is that you already know how it looks; you need to dig in and find the real beauty of the story and draw it out with better clarity and detail, like Michelangelo knocking the bits off a statue that don’t belong. The French poet Paul Valery says, “In the first draft is the talent, in the second is the art.”
As I look at my 400 page first draft, all I can think of is that I already wrote this turkey once, I hate to have to do it again. So, here goes.