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Rewriting: The Journey Begins

July 14, 2014 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

I’ve got this manuscript, fifty-odd-thousand words that I pounded out in thirty days as an exercise for NaNoWriMo…er, National Novel Writing Month. I’ve got this first draft of the Great American Novel sitting under my desk in a cardboard box from Kinko’s.

Now what?

I pull it out of the cardboard box and lug it down to Peet’s Coffee and order a Coffee-Free Soy Freddo without whip and I sit down and I start reading. And the novel stinks. The first two-thirds stink. But somewhere in the last third I sit up from my slump, my drink long since consumed, and something pulls me in. A voice. A new voice. A strong voice that emerges in the last third of the book. It takes me to the end, and I sit back and say yes, that’s my voice. I say: hello, voice.

Now what?

I rewrite the beginning. Six different ways. I bring one version to a writer’s conference and I’m told: “there’s too much nattering.” Nattering? I take it home and rewrite it again and take it to a workshop and I’m told: “I could read this writer for a very long time.” I’m told: “You must finish it, but write it exactly like this, all the way through.” Okay. Sure. Gulp.

Oh, I try.

Until I realize I have no idea what I’m doing, and stuff the manuscript back into the box.

I read books on how to plot and how to revise and how to find the mind of the story and how to blueprint my novel. I pull the manuscript out of the box and cut it into scenes with a pair of scissors and I paperclip the various sheets together and write a synopsis for every scene and I stuff it back into the box.

This isn’t rewriting.

This is rearranging!

The problem is—as ye perceptive ones have already guessed—I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’m spinning my training wheels. Here’s what I want: I want to spy on someone who’s engaged in the rewriting process and see how it’s done. I want to pull back the curtain and catch the writer performing whatever magic it is that writers do to bring the Great American Novel to life.

And it occurs to me…nay, it grabs me by the throat in the middle of the night and shakes me awake…an idea:

Why not cast yourself in the role of Wizard?

“Um…because I don’t know what I’m doing?”

But that’s the beauty of it! You record the journey. The flubs, the frustrations, the blocks, the resistance, the insights, the whole process from training wheels to “Look ma, no hands!”

“That’s a terrible metaphor.”

See? You do know something. Share what you know, share what you learn. Leave a trail like breadcrumbs for anyone heading in the same direction. Recommend books and blogs and websites. Stop complaining about the things that drive you nutty, and start blogging about this thing called Rewriting.

So that, dear reader, is what I’m doing. Here, behind the curtain. I’m recording all the nutty stuff that this particular writer does to get from first draft to completed novel.

Are you with me?

Because I want to hear about your creative journey, too.



  1. Nan Sampson says:

    I’m with you! Every step of the way. And I’ll be cheering for you too.


  2. Diane says:

    I am with you. Having just started down that re-writing path (and not having much of a clue either), I have a feeling I might be able to gain a thing or two (smile) from reading your posts. Keep ’em coming, Diane 🙂

  3. Joan merdinger says:

    Yay!!! I’m so excited to be taking this journey with you! I have only one question…what is a non coffee soy Freddo(sounds kinda yucky) 😉

  4. You’ve stumbled upon an amazing idea. I’m very curious to see what you come up with, to follow along on your journey.

    My book of essays was hard. I wrote and edited and re-wrote and rearranged. Now, I’m working on my first novel and it’s… HARDER. I have my voice but the problem comes because my specialty is humor. I’m trying to add my odd style of humor to some pretty dark material. I want the end result to be a semi-literary version of Hitchhiker’s Guide, only about addiction and class warfare. Good luck with that, eh?

    Anyway, maybe we’ll be there for each other, yeah?

  5. Jan says:

    Sigh, for me it takes a whole lot of chocolate before the re-writing wizards appear in my brain! Hang in there. jan

  6. Heather says:

    Looking forward to hearing about your journey! I’m always wondering if I’m doing it right (the rewriting) too. Though I feel there’s probably no right way, just whatever way gets you the end result you desire.

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