Chapter One, arguably the most important in the book, went through three (what I thought were) big rewrites before being posted two weeks ago.
This week, however, I reread it and decided some minor surgery, mostly cuts, was needed.
Today and after half a dozen “there that’s done … Oh, just one more word to change … And this part is clunky so I’ll change it, too” print / mark-up / edit passes, I’ve re-posted the new, much more focused version.
What I’m learning is about what I’ll call writer’s delusion.
That is, we think that what we just wrote is what was in our head. And re-reading it immediately thereafter, that’s what we see. We tell ourselves, “Ah, great, that’s exactly what I meant.”
But give it a sleep and what’s in the computer seems to change.
Words disappear. Phrases jump out and switch places with each other. Sentences develop holes, big holes that a fourth grader would catch. Easily.
So, I adopted the habit of writing a first draft, sleeping on it, and then marking it up. It’s amazing how much needed to be fixed. By the time I had all the changes scribbled on the hardcopy, there was much more red than black.
With three chapters in my novel-writing experience quiver, I had learned that you draft a chapter, wait, re-read and mark it up, and then you throw it away and re-write.
That superseded first draft is useful only as a general guide, like a dead body shows the shape and look of the person, but none of the nuance of the life it housed. So, in the re-write, you look at the carcass for the essential shape, but you otherwise start over with an empty file and a blank screen.
So far, so good, or so I thought.
Unfortunately, writer’s delusion can’t be cured by a single overnight of abstinence. Half a week later, there will be more missing words, phrases and “essential clues needed before the next chapter.”
Not only is a re-write mandatory, just as important is that fact that if you re-write too soon, you’ll have to re-write the re-write.
Writing a major work is, I should have known, a major piece of work. It takes time, a huge amount of time. You not only have to write it, but then you must forget what’s been written before you can actually see what’s been written.
Will it help to let a week go by between first draft and the re-write? What will happen if I wait two weeks? A month? A year?
At some point, the baby must be pushed out. That’s clear.
And maybe, like childbirth seemed to be 150 years ago, the first one is hard, the second one not quite so and, by the tenth, they just kind’a pop out between doing the laundry and starting dinner. (Yeah, I know that sounds sexist. But it was too easy to pass up. Kick me.)
Now go look at the revised first chapter and let me know if it’s an abomination or if you think as I do, that it’s the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen. (I may not think so after its been squawling and pooping for a week.)