January 04, 2005

rewrites are hard

The hardest part of rewriting an entire novel turns out not to be the work itself, not the decisions about what needs work and what doesn't. It's the shift, back and forth and back to the past too: I wrote this passage two years ago, how can I rewrite it? How can I stay true to the tone and tenor of the words when I'm not that person anymore, when my cells have shed and renewed themselves and my writing style has altered as my life has progressed? But I can, it seems. I do, it seems.

Then there's the left brain/right brain dichotomy of it. I chug along on the surface, analyzing word choices and gerund overuse and abrupt sentence fragments and unintentional repetition and the clichés that inevitably slip in here and there (those sneaky little devils) (a cliché in itself, no?) (see what I mean about sneaky?) and then I come across a section that needs an actual get-your-hands-dirty revamp and I stop. My brain? Switch to creative mode? Um, okay, but how? Once I’m in line edit mode, it's not so easy to find my muse. She doesn't always come when called, especially when I haven't needed her for a few weeks. She's taken a well-deserved rest, my poor overworked muse. (Remember: 140 pages in two weeks. Muse got tired. So did I.)

I discovered last month that the first page or so is always the hardest, that I have to try extra hard to get past the self-conscious "I'm writing that? Is that the best choice here?" baloney that creates halting, unsteady prose. After two pages, I usually find a groove, though, and the words flow. But here? Two pages of new material is all I need to write (until I get to the next section that needs in-depth work). Not enough time to even begin to sense the beat, much less find the flow. Also, during the surface copyediting bits, I'm pretty much exclusively using the hyper-analytical part of my brain. The exact part of my brain I do NOT want to use when writing a new scene. Unless I want it to sound like a textbook and not a novel.

Tricky, this.

Posted by Tamar at January 4, 2005 10:29 PM

Personally, I think it's way too soon to start the rewrites. I'd just reread, with a journal-notebook by your side. But there's no way you have enough distance now, and too much danger of being overwhelmed by irrational feelings about the project, IMHO, of course.

Is there a reason you feel you have to dig in now?

Posted by: Chris at January 5, 2005 09:53 AM

Yes, there's a reason: I want to. And I think I have plenty of perspective on the first half of the novel; I've had specific tweaks in mind for a long time now. If I end up just doing line edits on the second half for now, that's fine. Every writer is different. What may work for me may not work for you.

I didn't mean to imply in my post that I'm having an especial hard time with this rewrite. I'm not. Just musing on the difference between first draft and rewrite. I never like this phase.

Posted by: Tamar at January 5, 2005 10:27 AM

yeah, it's true: second drafts are my least favorite part, too. (I call it the architectural phase. Third and fourth drafts -- now that's the part that feels like a mutual massage....) Then again, of course, I'm now tearing apart my 6+ draft, so what do I know?

Still, I admire your ability to wade back in so quickly. As you say, no two writers have the same approach.

Posted by: Chris at January 5, 2005 02:55 PM

I'm in my 4th revision of my first novel and I'm, not hating it, but not having much fun with it either. In this casem though, there's a language component, a particular poetic level that I associate with the world the story is written in. It's driving me up the wall. And I so hope the novels that don't require such attention to the language don't drive me as crazy.

As for wading in so quickly, I barely managed to wait a month to start revisions. I figure if I wait too long, I'll lose interest. The only reason I waited as long as I did was becuase "established" authors told me to. Otherwise, I would have been right back to it.

Posted by: domynoe at January 6, 2005 02:41 PM