Let me begin by saying that very nearly all writers rewrite. Rare indeed is the writer who can just pour it all out on the page, solid gold and not a word or a comma needing to be changed. If you are that rare bird, then it is a cinch that this is not your first, or even your tenth, story or novel. To hit it perfectly, every word shining and ideal as your fingers leave the keys, is a learned skill, just like running a four-minute mile. And how do you learn it? Practice, of course. Rewriting!
So, you gotta rewrite. But a grass-is-always-greener effect seems to take hold here. Whatever it is you’re doing right this moment, the other was more fun. I argue that the joys are different — like ice cream versus raw oysters.
Writing that first draft is the glory of Balboa in Darien, mounting to the top of the continental divide and looking with wild surmise over a vast ocean that nobody ever knew of before. You are plowing along steadily, the inexorable progress of the backhoe chewing up tarmac, unstoppable, inexorable, the juggernaut crushing all the story problems into bloody powder before you. Or else you are driving fast, five hundred miles an hour, the plot mileposts flicking past in your speed, the sound barrier cracking in your wake. Raw creation, the power of the gods in my hand — tremble before me, ye mortals!
Rewriting is the deliberate pleasure of the needleworker. Each end is neatly and perfectly tucked in, one by one by one. Was that cable turned correctly? No, it was not! How did I miss that one? But, no huhu. It’s not over until I say it is over. Drop down, pick up the stitches and knit it up right. The quest for the exact right buttons, the careful consideration of the ruffle around the neck — lace? a leaf lace, or more filet? Books are like knitting — you can always fix it. Nothing is forever.
This is when maniacal Googling happens, so that every detail and fact is solid. This is when inordinate expenditures on research volumes are made on Amazon. Not before, when you could always tell yourself you would fix it later. It is later, today — fix it now! And, what about the plot? Could I make it … worse? My hero has not suffered nearly enough. Suppose, instead of going off with the cops meek as a lamb when they arrest him, he makes a break for it? Chase scenes are always nice. There is not a plot in the world that could not be improved by howling bloodhounds, and perhaps search lights stabbing the night sky. And if I did that, then his girlfriend could go ballistic. There is no reason why she should put up with the police’s need to drag him off to the slammer. Then she could be hauled in for questioning.
This is the fanaticism of perfection, Savonarola standing at the pyre with the torch. It is going to be right, absolutely perfect, if we all die for it. But it is important for the young writer to discover what kind of a writer she is. Can these two halves coexist, or must they exist quite separately, two sides of the writer coin? Do you get sucked into research and never write? Or are you unable to finish, to declare the rewriting over with? You only learn these answers by doing it.
The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.