1. I haven’t written any new words or edited any old ones in my novel for a couple of weeks. The kids are on school holidays, except for my Year 12 daughter who is sitting her mock exams. There have been concerts, camps, birthdays, and I haven’t been able to carve out the time or mental space for writing.
2. Having said that, I’m on the downhill run with this rewrite. I’ve shredded scenes, turned them upside-down and inside-out, ‘murdered’ my darlings, and replaced them with newer, sleeker versions. What has struck me during this process is how quickly the memory of my darlings fades, and I realise they weren’t really the jewels I thought they were.
3. Either that, or ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
4. Sometimes, I worry that no one will want to publish my story when it’s finished, and all this time and effort is in vain …
5. But I couldn’t stop now even if I wanted to.
6. Besides, I know it won’t be a waste even if Ida’s Children is never published. The value 0f this novel may be in the learning, so I can put all my acquired knowledge into my second novel, the publishable one.
7. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have just started my second novel instead of rewriting this one. Then again, I couldn’t have abandoned it—I don’t give up easily, not until I’ve seen a project through to the end, and whatever I do, I can’t do it half-heartedly.
8. I’ve also learnt so much by rewriting it, much more than if I’d abandoned it and started afresh.
9. I recently read an article in The Victorian Writer‘s June edition (I’m always a few months behind in my journal reading). It was titled, Re-Write Right, and written by novelist Kate Belle. It starts with the quote:
‘There is no great writing, only great rewriting.’ (Justice Brandeis)
Kate goes on to say:
‘I thought the act of rewriting was like tidying the house. You pick a few things up and shove them under the bed, you blow the dust off the top of books and push cupboards closed on bunched up clothes and tangles of shoes.’
She soon learnt that’s not rewriting. Rewriting is:
‘… starting again with fresh eyes, chopping out whole chapters, writing new ones, experimenting with point of view and tense and plot lines, dumping scenes …’
‘A true rewrite isn’t a desultory tidy up. It takes real courage. And honesty.’
‘Rewriting should be an exercise in ego suppression, of disengaging the parts the self intimately connected to those words you’ve sweated and bled and exalted over. It’s an act of stepping as far back as you can from what you’ve created and appraising those words with a ruthless and critical eye. Actively looking for flaws and picking out the gold from the forest of words can be painful. There is grief. There’s often disappointment, sometimes even despair. There is the cutting of the creative umbilical cord over and over again, until all the excess self-indulgence has been pared away and only the essential bones of the story are left.’
‘Rewriting is the true work of writing, driven by a deeper understanding of what the story is trying to say.’
10. This article affirmed everything I’ve been trying to accomplish with this rewrite, and I really feel as if I’m doing the right thing. In fact, I’m even glad it was passed over for the Hungerford Award, because if it hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have discovered this better story.
11. My novel has undergone such major surgery—a gastrectomy, enterectomy, and colectomy. In other words, I’ve ripped its guts out, and given it a brand new one!
The story that remains has been there all along, latent and waiting to be discovered, but to find it, I had to go searching, unravelling it, then knitting it all back together again.
12. If you’d like a more refined metaphor: editing this story has reminded me of how my kids learn a new piece of music—they quickly learn all the notes and it sounds okay, not great, but okay. They then spend weeks, even months, polishing it. It’s tedious work, and they don’t particularly like it, playing the same piece over and over, plucking out a bar or two and practising it again and again. It would be much more enjoyable to move on to something new and fresh, but it’s those weeks and months of monotonous, grinding labour that make the music come alive. Not only does their technique improve and everything becomes more accurate, but alongside that, something intangible happens—the piece becomes a part of them, and they seem to understand it, feel its nuances, realise what the composer meant. As a listener, you hear it change from ‘meh’ to magical.
I think writing’s similar—the first draft is just the story, and it’s the editing that makes it special. That laborious, unglamorous, confusing, and mentally exhausting time, during which you discover the real meaning of a particular scene, see motivations in a character you hadn’t previously spotted, and come to understand what your story is really trying to say.
This week, I tried taking photos of ‘red’.
Our first red rose of spring:
Stop sign at the end of our street. I was looking into the sunset and had to overexpose the background. The camera’s also on the ‘Selective Colour’ setting.
More ‘selective colour’:
We’ve been gardening, tidying up after our destructive dogs, but it’s rather like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge—as soon as you finish, you have to go back and start again.
Meanwhile, down at the Lake it’s family time:
It feels like summer when we start juicing fruits and eating outside: