January, and the return to work after the Xmas has meant I feel exhausted. How I envy through rose-tinted glasses those who can write full time.
My spare time over the last few days has been taken up with the rewrite of a chapter. I’m taking it incredibly slowly and whilst the chapter isn’t a big one in terms of the overall story, there’s a lot of emotion interaction between characters.
This novel has had a long evolution. Even close friends have questioned whether I’m trapped in an endless cycle of re-writes. It’s very easy as a writer to get bored with the words after a couple of read-throughs and find yourself wanting to rewrite so everything is shiny and new again.
But my rewrites for the most-part are about making the story tighter, bringing the scene more sharply into focus, turning everything up to 11 on the dial. I have a story in my head and for a long while what was on the page fell short.
The first chapter has been rewritten at least twenty times, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was as high as fifty. The early versions tried to do too much, tried to tell too much story in too short a space. Subsequent versions moved elements back, expanding the world and the story chapter by chapter, rather than club you over the back of the head in chapter 1.
But the comments from friends always came back “you’re writing it again? The chapter is fine, leave it.” And it gets to a stage where I felt I had to make do.
But what’s the point of writing, if you can’t be happy with what you write? If I’m writing for myself, does it matter if I write a chapter fifty times? A hundred? A thousand times?
It’s easy as a writer to cheat yourself, to tell yourself you’re doing something for one reason when you’re really doing it for another. And then you worry that because all the “How To” books on writing tell you that this isn’t normal and should be stopped, you’re somehow doing it wrong.
But here’s the thing: there’s no right or wrong way to write, there’s only your way. And sure, sometimes you’ll get it wrong and hindsight will show you what you were blind to at the time. But if your gut tells you a chapter needs a rewrite because you’re not happy with it… rewrite it.
Sure, that’s scary. In fact it’s pretty fucking terrifying, because you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing, and you’re just winging it, and you worry you might be so completely fucking deluded that you’ll “screw everything up”.
You’ll write and fuck up and learn and grow.
And so this is why I came to edit chapter 30, read about a page and decided it needed a rewrite, whilst at the back of my head all the anticipated comments from my friends played out.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to those doubts. I’m really happy with the revised chapter 30. The few good bits from the old draft are still there but the rest is all new words. It’s tighter, it’s more alive and I think it’s some of my best work to date. I even made the point of really taking my time with it (about 500 words a day).
Now I have no guarantee that it’ll be people’s favourite chapter. Heck, I have no idea if anyone other than me will like the book. But I like it.
And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.