Rewrite Hell; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Process
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Being an emerging writer (read: aspiring n00b), I learned a lot over the past year, when I:
taught myself to write fiction (by writing a G-D novel);
honed my craft in the fires of Orodruin (read: online short fiction competitions);
joined a wicked writing group;
read about writing (you know, doing things backwards?);
edited that G-D novel;
read even more about writing; and,
began to rewrite my novel for the final time.
I began this wacky authorial journey with eyes wide open. I was (am) prepared for a long, punishing and ultimately fruitless ordeal. Happily, aside from three short periods of being stuck in plot limbo or writing in the wrong direction, I have thoroughly enjoyed the ordeal. That said, there are a few things I have discovered that ought to help my fellow writers and interest everyone else (well, hopefully).
I, like other artists, am an observer who soaks up all the detail, poetry, drama, and conflict around me--like some messed-up human sponge. Sadly, that deep knowledge is acquired from equally dark experience. It makes us good observers but also overly-cautious, inwardly-focused and mild-to-severely damaged people. It also births that voice in our heads: The one that shouts at us to finish the damn story while simultaneously telling us we should just give up because we're no good, it's already been done, no one will care, who do you think you are, etc.
Yeah, that voice.
I've come to crave the outlet that writing provides because it gives me a place to put all that junk in my head, with the added benefit of generating a sense of accomplishment with a side of validation. So what? Well, good question . . .
Take It Easy
Like the Dude, I also fucking hate the Eagles (man): They're a slower, blander C.C.R.; but, I applaud the sentiment. I learned to tell that motherfucker in my head to shut his goddamn trash mouth, the story will take as long as it needs to especially because, after months and months, that first draft is going to be terrible. The core will be there, it'll have some pretty great scenes, metaphor and dialogue, but the important bits won't be spelled out, less important bits will be far too long, plot holes will gape, characters will be forgotten, and the sentence structure--let's not talk about that.
Suffice it to say: Finishing that bastard takes time. Lots of it. Keep working but relax already. It'll get done when it's done.
The Real Work Starts After You're Done
Writing is, at best, an artful science. Rules must sometimes be broken, and story is conveyed with implied line as much as anything else. Figuring out what to leave in, take out, explore in detail or speed past takes many re-reads, lots of editing and much revision.
I wrote my first final draft in four months, took another month to finish the second draft (that was final too), and have been going strong on my third draft for over a month already (you'd better believe this one is final!).
Don't Submit Until It's Ready (No Matter What)
What's the point of rushing out a story that isn't the absolute best piece of work you can produce? It'll only get rejected anyway. Hell, odds are it'll get rejected even if it's perfect. So, maximize your chances of success by putting in the time the story needs. You need distance and a fresh pair of eyes (gross).
It happens to us all: You finish the story, you're feeling the pressure, you edit and revise, you've got other things in your life, you just want it done (for the love of God, let it be done!), you submit it. Then you head to the kitchen, get a drink, sit back down and . . . obsessively check your submission.
Awkward sentence structure (I thought we weren't talking about that).
Everything you missed six minutes ago is screaming at you from the screen, but it's too late. The file is sent. The submission can't be edited. Shit.
Don't let this happen to you: Resist the voice! Give yourself time for cool reflection, even if it's just a half hour.
Your story deserves it.
Don't Be Precious About Your Work
I say "work" deliberately. Writing should be work, even if it's fun. It's a means to an end: Engaging the reader. I don't want to confuse or bore them. I've got something to say that I think they should read, but if I'm not clever about it my message will come off clumsy or preachy. You know, like this article! 😅
We've got to be willing to make big changes for the sake of readability. By the second or third edit I found it useful to read for relevance, particularly when a section is long. What purpose does that text serve? Does it set up something that will pay off later? Is it important to the plot? Is it necessary backstory? Does it develop a character? Does it break tension or ramp it up?
Some of the biggest problems with my earlier manuscript were pacing and plot. I had front-loaded too much unnecessary background. I told the reader about the world and what the character thought about it, rather than have the reader experience the world as the story unfolded. Then came the red pen. Huge blocks of text became a single sentence. World-building references were moved into existing dialogue. Diatribes (read: the world according to The Author) were razed to the ground. Because boring.
It's tough. Some of the things I had to remove took a long time to write. But why leave them in if they just turn off the reader? The reader who wants to enjoy your book. The last thing I want is for that precious reader to throw my book across the room, crying: "I get it: It's a gritty fantasy world, get to the action already! Yeesh!"
Try not to worry and stick it out. Left unchecked, that anxiety will have you rush your story out the door, which achieves nothing. Make it the best it can be and true to your voice and world view. Don't rush it but keep at it.
Remember, if you ever catch yourself saying "Good enough", pro-tip: It ain't.
I keep telling myself that the greatest stories last no matter what they're about because I know it's true. I want it to be true of my work and suspect you do too. So, put in the work and make your story shine!
And tell that motherfucker in your head to chill.