Posted tagged ‘rewriting’

’69 Chevy Camaro

May 23, 2016

Usually on Fridays afternoons, if the weather is decent, I drive my two dogs to a not-so-nearby park and we walk around the lake. I take quiet neighborhood streets to get there, and often, when we pass a certain house, I see a man either in his garage or on his driveway, working on a vintage truck he is evidently restoring. Slowly restoring.

When I was a wee lad, there was a neighbor down the street who had a 1969 Camaro, and though I could not drive and was years from being legally able to, I fell in love with that car. I would cup my hands before my face and press against the window to peer inside, imagining myself in the driver’s seat, tooling along and feeling fine.

Later in life, I fell in love with a particular woman, and her father had an old ’69 Camaro (even the light metallic blue color I wanted) that he was keeping running for one of his other daughters. When it came time to get rid of that car, (after I had married that woman) I considered buying it and fulfilling my long-held dream. But it was a mess mechanically, and I knew even less about engines and such than I do about writing. I discussed it with my own father, and he said that it would likely end up in my garage, taking up space, siphoning my wallet, and causing more frustration than satisfaction. Money was tight. Responsibilities were large. Time was short. I did not buy that Camaro, and I suspect to this day that was the right decision.

Which leads me to my Fathers and Sons stories. I’m in perpetual rewrite mode with them now. I read and I tinker and I get inspiration and go back and do it some more. And I think about that man restoring his truck or me with that broken-down Camaro. How much longer will I/must I work on these stories? When will I feel like I can let them go and send them to a good friend who offered to read them? To begin — gulp! — submitting them as a whole? Or are they going to remain permanently in the garage of my mind, always being improved but never being finished?


writing is rewriting

August 17, 2015

“I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.”

Gustave Flaubert

“I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie on the sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning.”

E.I. Lonoff in Roth’s The Ghost Writer

So, writing is rewriting. That was a hard lesson for me to learn when I was just a pup starting on this adventure. The stories I wrote then demanded so much of me, so thoroughly exhausted my life experience and the shallows of my musings, that when I finished one, there was nothing more I could do with it. It was finished. Complete. Perfect just the way it was. And behind me.

And undoubtedly dreadful. I’ve not whipped up the courage to go back and read any of those from the early days. I know now that they were my apprentice work, my crawling before stumbling before walking before running. And I know even more, know with well-deserved humility, that no first draft is complete or perfect just the way it is. Certainly not one of mine anyway.

This has not been a good writing year for me. I know many people are dismissive of the idea of “writer’s block.” And perhaps that is not what is afflicting me. Ideas for new stories, ideas for developing partially written stories, even ideas for stories that are finished and published, flood into my chaotic brain just as much as they ever did. But sitting before the laptop in the wee small hours of the morning and making myself enter that creative place where the writing flows (or trickles or sometimes dams up) has just not been happening. Yes, I did manage to put together two short stories in the last few months, but they were completions of work I had started long before, and I’m not sure they’re actually complete. Two stories in eight months ain’t much in the realm of productivity.

But if you can’t write, you can always rewrite, and that’s what I’ve been doing more of lately.

One of my “completed” Fathers and Sons stories (one? more like a half dozen!) had always felt forced and more than a little schmaltzy. Despite those misgivings, I had submitted it to several magazines and duly received rejections. Fine. That’s the nature of this biz. Knowing that it wasn’t right, I’d revisit it and tinker with this or that, and maybe I’d improve it in increments, but I wasn’t getting it where it needed to be. It was flawed in some deep way that I couldn’t identify.

But then the epiphany came. One of the fathers in the stories succumbs to dementia in his old age. Much of the sons’ legacy is lost (or trapped) inside his mind. And what is gleaned from there is suspect. What I realized, as I reflected on the many stories in their many states of completion, is that memory is a recurring theme throughout them. I hadn’t set out to make this a touchstone. (I hadn’t even set out to write a cycle of stories; I just wrote one, liked it, set it aside, then found I had more to say about the characters.) Memory recalled, memory mistrusted, and, in the case of this story, memory manufactured and whether true or not, cherished.

The story is titled “Comfortable in his skin” and it deals with a pivotal day in the life of one of the sons. Yet as he remembers the day, he can’t be sure it happened they way his imagines. But he decides he’s going to accept the memory as true.

The problem with the story was that I’d had the wrong narrator. I had the father telling the story, lovingly, about his son and this important day in his young life. And while that would make it true in the universe of the cycle, it was just too saccharine and “final” for my liking. To have the son “remember” the day decades later, to have him fill in the missing parts as he wanted them to be, allowed the schmaltziness to become sweetness. It’s still a sentimental story, but it is the story as well told as my skills can do.

Discovering the theme of the story is what allowed me to salvage it. That same thing happened in a big way in my story “When we were young and life was full in us,” which I still think is the story I’ve written with the best control; every word in it was considered and weighed. Every sentence was turned around. I think I did get that one exactly right. (And there is a motif in “Comfortable” that recurs in the later-in-the-cycle “When we were young” that I’m pleased with.)

Is “Comfortable in his skin” finished? Probably not. I’ve sent it to a writing friend for his opinion. (Note: he told me I was always welcome to send him stuff.) I’m not good at taking advice, but he is good at seeing through the fog, so I’ll give his words consideration.

I’m not sure I’m past whatever has bottled up my creativity this year, but it is gratifying to get another story in better shape. I’ll take that much until something better comes along.

Visiting an old friend

July 5, 2010

The Sleep of Reason, as I’ve said here before, has been put to bed. This is to say that I’ve considered it fully written, revised, refined, and ready. It’s now circulating among agents, and my creative energies are devoted in other areas.

Except that a few thoughts kept pressing on my humble and cluttered mind. I seemed to recall one inconsistency in the story, an observation the protagonist made that could not make sense given the facts of the story that came a chapter or two before. And I thought that maybe I could enhance a small, dreamlike sequence to make it even more dreamlike. And then I considered that I was missing an opportunity to forge a subtle but direct link between an incident in the very first chapter with the eventual fate of the protagonist.

And so in the wee hours of the past weekend, I cracked open several chapters of the novel and began to hunt for these areas. I found the latter two without difficulty, but the former proved more of a challenge since it related to a conversation in a different chapter. But I persevered, and I was rewarded. I found the conversation and the later observation that didn’t make sense. The fix was easy; I simply deleted the one sentence in which the observation was made. The text flowed fine without it and the inconsistency was dealt with.

The other two fixes were even easier. I enhanced the dream-like scene with a few well-chosen modifiers, and I made the link between the first chapter and the end with a quick sentence. The novel is better for it, and the work took me all of twenty minutes.

I don’t tell you this to show what a hero I am. Writing is rewriting, after all. It was the nagging to get these done that I marvel at. Even though I’d considered the manuscript complete, and even though I had “moved on” to Larger than Life, these thoughts pressed in my brain and wouldn’t let me ignore them. They really were subtle points. They might have been left unaddressed — even the inconsistency was missed by my readers — but they stayed with me. I take this as a sign that I have a strong grasp of my story, despite having “finished” it, and that such minor fixes are as welcome as they are inevitable.

Now I just hope that’s the last of them.

iterations and emendations

April 2, 2010

I wander the wilds of the internet* and see all sorts of wondrous things, some of it edifying, some of it exasperating, some of it mystifying, much of it simply boring.

One little thing I saw recently that has taken up residence in one of the overlooked crannies of my mind is another writer’s rewriting routine. She said that each time she does a rewrite, she saves the prior version in case she wants to go back to use it again. I don’t know how many versions of her story she has saved as a result, but I know I couldn’t work this way.

I have three versions of my novel-in-endless-progress, The Sleep of Reason. The first is the original, first-person narrated draft. I was about three-quarters of the way through with writing that draft when I realized it needed to be recast in the third person, but I finished it anyway rather than try to restart without having the tale complete. I saved all of that, and it’s been unmolested since.

The second version I have is what I finished when I rewrote the entire 110,000+ words with the third-person narrator. When I got that done, I uploaded the whole of it to Google Documents for safekeeping. There it remains.

The third version I have is my current working draft, and here is where that other writer’s method would not work for me. I’ve been through this draft a half dozen times, and with each pass I make all kinds of uncounted changes. They may be as simple as changing a few words or tightening the occasional sentence, or they may involve the addition of new scenes or deletion of whole pieces that no longer belong. I have been known to open a chapter at random and start reading it, and I will inevitably fine something to change, often a few somethings.

Were I to save each draft before and after I made these manifold changes, I would have dozens of drafts on my hard drive. For me, the versions I have left behind are not worth going back to. The version I am working with is in a constant state of becoming. It is a living document.

Most likely, I have misunderstood that other writer’s meaning. I suspect she only saves prior drafts when she’s about to wreak major changes to her story, changes she won’t be able to tell if they work or not until she tries them. If she finds they don’t work, well, she still has her earlier draft to return to.

*   *   *

*For those of you who care, I’m eager for common usage to allow the word “internet” to be spelled without an initial capital.

Chapter 7 has no reason to exist

February 2, 2010

Not long after writing yesterday’s overly confident post about how I didn’t foresee any structural changes to my novel in progress, I decided I needed to make a structural change. Specifically, I’ve decided that chapter 7 has no reason for existing.

I’ve noted in recent posts here that I was having repeated difficulties with chapter 6, which I think I have more or less resolved, and now I find that chapter 7 is a waste of bits and bytes. I found that I was repeating myself, saying again what I had already said in earlier chapters but not saying it as well as I had before. They really are weak chapters, and I couldn’t understand why this would happen in the middle of a novel.

I have figured it out.

Those two chapters were the casualties of my hard drive crash more than a year ago. I had lost what I had originally written for chapters 6 and 7 (due to my shameful lack of rigor and vigilance in making backups) and had to rewrite them. I think this explains why they are so anemic and ill fitting and repetitive. I understand now why they have troubled me so much.

Chapter 7, in particular, is not carrying its weight in the story. It is the shortest chapter (aside from the climaxing last chapter) and I see how it could easily be chopped into pieces and scattered into nearby chapters. The first third of the existing chapter is comprised of the stuff I’ve found to be repetitive, and I can move the useful bits to earlier chapters if they supplement or enhance them, or I can delete the pieces entirely. The latter two thirds include an important conversation, and I can see how it could be moved to chapter 8, which, however, is a bit lengthy already.

Not to worry, gentle reader. I can split the swollen chapter 8 in twain. The latter half of that chapter is tremendously important and probably merits its own treatment. The former half can thus be supplemented with the important conversation currently in chapter 7 and thus stand on its own as a worthy new chapter 8.

All it’s going to take is a lot of hard work. Nothing to it!

Rewriting recommences

September 12, 2009

The rewriting work on The Sleep of Reason is back in gear again. In recent days I’ve worked my way through three more chapters, bringing myself to about the midpoint of the whole novel. I’m still finding plot points that need addressing, or rather, I’m still leaving plot points that need addressing. There is a particular revelation in Chapter 8, for example, that may be better made in a later chapter, but I haven’t gotten to that chapter in my rewrite yet to judge.

I am making small notes of what transpires in each chapter so that I can find these unresolved plot points easily when the time comes. I really should have done this on the first go through, as I was writing the chapters originally, but I was in the fever of creativity at the time, or something like that.

I’m also tracking the passage of time in each chapter so that I can go back and impose some seasonal descriptions to them. As I noted in an earlier post, I know the month of the year when the story is to end, so with my time markers for each chapter, it will be easy to know at what time of the year they occur.

One thing I’m curious about is the final world count of the whole thing. I hadn’t compiled that when I finished the first draft, and those chapter files are a bit ragged for going back to get a reliable number. So I’m tabulating as I make my way through the rewrite, considering whatever it comes to, to be the more valid count. I expect it to come in somewhere around 100,000 words.

The rewrite progresses

September 1, 2009

If I tell you I think that getting through the first four chapters of the rewrite of my novel is great progress, will you not laugh too hard?

It’s been an interesting experience for me thus far, scrutinizing the early chapters. I’m seeing the writer I was then — about a year ago. More precisely, I’m seeing my state of mind about the direction of the novel when I was just getting started and had only the vaguest idea of where it would all lead. This is fun, and I guess it gives me some insight into my mysterious and murky creative process.

What I’ve found is that I threw a lot of material into those early chapters. I was planting all sorts of seeds for story possibilities. Some I went on to develop, but others I left fallow. I’m fascinated by what I was doing, mostly in the dark back then, to give the story the broadest possible avenue for development. My narrative is a bit florid, but that is in keeping with the narrator/protagonist at that point in his development. He’s proud and confident, and he thinks he is in control. He talks like the big man he thinks he is. And while I’ve done some pruning and rearrangement of sentences, I’ve mostly kept his adipose prose.

When I opened first-draft Chapter 3, I met a surprise. The monster was 10,000+ words long! While that may be perfectly normal in many novels, it’s about twice the size of the average chapter in the rest of this novel. It’s an example, in a different way, of me throwing a lot of material in. I covered a lot of ground in that chapter, but I don’t think I worried too much about its since since Chapter 1 was 8,000 words. First-draft Chapter 3 deals with a single day in my protagonist’s life, and I guess I thought that justified keeping it all in one chapter, regardless of the size required.

I’ve since changed my mind about that. I clove the chapter in two. This actually improves the story because it ends the first new chapter with an important though obscure-at-this-point point, and it does the same for the beginning of the second new chapter.

going from 1st to 3rd person narration

June 16, 2009

I’m not sure how I’m going to do this, mechanically I mean. I’ll have the whole of The Sleep of Reason written in first-person narration, and I’ll want to rewrite it in third person. So how will I do that?

Will I read one paragraph and write the revised paragraph immediately below it on the screen?

Should I print each chapter (what a waste of paper!) and have it at hand as I create new files in the computer?

Should I have the first-person draft show on one screen while I write the new one on another? (This is possible since my old, glacially slow laptop could sit side-by-side with my newer one — now two years old — and justify its existence with such low-demand work.)

I suppose I’ll work out a solution, but right now it all seems clumsy. Any suggestions?