Saturday, February 9, 2013

The mythology of the rewrite.

When I first went to college, I remember my dorm mates moaning about how hard they were studying.  I always felt like I was a slacker in comparison. Then one day, it occurred to me that a lot of what they were saying was an exaggeration.  I mean, I don't doubt there were some real hard studiers, but not everyone who pretended to be studying hard was studying any harder than I was.

So, I've been wondering about the rewrite.

There is such a mythology built up about rewriting.  How important it is.  How most of the quality of a book comes from rewrites.  Bleeding blood on the page, you know.

It puts quite the pressure on a writer.

But I'm really loosing my faith that rewriting is as important as everyone says it.

I mean, if it really did improve the quality of the writing to the extent that everyone says it does, then by all means, rewriting would be terribly important.

But -- I'm not sure that my insight, my creativity, my intelligence are any greater a month from now than they are at the moment.

I'm finding, actually, that my level seems to be my level.  That there isn't a magic pill that makes me more creative.   I'm not suddenly smarter tomorrow.  I'm not going to get blinding flashes of insight every time I rewrite.

There are things that need to be done to a manuscript.  A little perspective helps.  Certainly, copy-editing needs to be done.  Awkward or repeated words.  Inconsistencies.  Any manuscript can be improved, I don't deny that. 

But this idea that rewriting will somehow magically transform a book seems to me to be a bit of a trap.  Much like the trap of thinking that someone else, some editor or friend, is going to magically transform what you've written, like Maxwell Perkins supposedly did for Thomas Wolfe.

Somehow, by staring at my words long enough, it will suddenly become clearer?  The quality will jump dramatically?

There are times when a good idea will dramatically improve a book, but if it does, it probably means the book was flawed in the first place.  What I found with NEARLY HUMAN was, that I came to major improvements late in the game, and spent so much time on trying to get those improvements into the book that I could have written a whole 'nother book in the meantime.  The "improvements" were simply the story-sense and character development that should have been there in the first place.

If you remember, I went on and on about how to write the "third" book.  Which is how Earle Stanley Gardner did it.  He was a mechanics writer, I'm an intuitive writer.  I think I'm an inside-out writer, not an outside-in writer.  I think both types exist.  Mechanics writers think we intuitive writers are naive.  We intuitive writers think mechanics writers are formulaic.

I kept racking my brain on how to improve NEARLY HUMAN,  and I think I did, but the real problem is that I got off on the wrong foot.  It was my practice book.  

So, I guess I have to admit that rewriting worked there, because it made it clear what I was missing and thus was able to try to do better with the next three efforts.

I'm not even sure that rewriting always improves a book; sometimes I wonder if it doesn't mess it up a little.

All this may be an excuse for being lazy or impatient.  I'm trying really hard these days not to be that way.

I think heavy rewriting can be a recipe for writer's block.  You keep thinking you can and should improve, and you're looking for all the faults and you start finding them, and you start to fiddle and maybe mess up the clear vision you started with, and it becomes no fun and you start to question why you're doing it.

So...I'm not saying, don't rewrite.  But keep it on the level it deserves.  Not the mythology of the rewrite, but the real, useful utility of the rewrite.

And then write the next book.

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