Monday, October 29, 2007

Starting the rewrite finally

During last week and over the weekend I came to the decision that I needed to start the rewrite, even though I don't know what I'm doing, and today I started.

I put in about one hour of work first thing after my coffee. I opened the first chapter, save a fresh copy of it and just started going through it line by line. Most of the time I was making sentence-level adjustments, and I did that knowing that it's way too early to worry about that kind of revision, but it seemed like the only way to get started and find my way into it. One danger is the sense of contentment that method might bring. I need to find the big picture problems, and sentence-level editing might actually cause me to miss them.

In any case, I found at least one biggER picture problem, if not necessarily the kind of problem I ought to be focusing on. But the decision I've come to is that what I ought to be focusing on is an unknown. I'm not smart or experienced enough to make the kind of evaluation and plan the work accordingly. And since I don't know what I ought to do, the only thing to do is just to go forward blindly.

Not absolutely blindly--I do have some critical faculties and have done some thinking. But I'm moving forward with a lot less of a plan than I expected.

Another way of thinking about it that is finally dawning on me is that I'm in a totally unfamiliar process right now. If you imagine starting the draft of a book and how that feels like wading out from the shore into a vast expanse . . . this is like that except it's with the sense of never having tried before and never having seen the water before and not knowing what wading or swimming or treading water even are.

Another comparison . . . you know how when you're a teenager first getting that urge to be a writer? (Usually a poet.) And you open up your school notebook to a blank page with a pen in your hand. What is unique about that moment I think is that it's a moment when you have a tremendous creative urge but it's not yet connected to writing itself--to the knowledge of what writing is or the sense that you could be a writer. It's like the blank page is seducing you but you don't know know enough about sex to recognize what it is. I remember wanting just to move the pen over the paper and create images with words, but I didn't have any sense that there was such a thing as writing and writers.

Starting this rewrite feels like that moment. When I started the first draft, I didn't know I could finish it, but I at least knew what I was embarking on and that I was attempting to use skills that I had been honing. With the rewrite, it's almost like I don't know what that job actually is. I don't know what it entails or what it looks like or feels like. I don't know that anyone has actually done it before. It's an unarticulated part of the process.

So I came to about the sixth page or so to a point where the characters move from one space to another and it was clumsy. No transition. No rationale. No reason for them to do that. So I stopped, put several hard returns in the text to create some space, and started writing. I just wrote what my character was thinking and feeling and deciding. I ended up adding . . . not so much. A couple hundred words. But it was created from a fuller understanding of the character than I had at the end of the first draft. And it starts to commit the story to a more dramatic and active relationship between the characters.

After writing that new graf, I paused. An hour was up. Work beckoned. I decided to pause there for the day. I didn't get a lot done, but I learned a lot and I got started. I'll pick up in the same place tomorrow and hopefully build up my stamina as well as my understanding of what I'm doing.

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