The Rewriting Enemy

I’ve read much about how rewriting can become an illness, an unstoppable virus that can take over your life and paralyze you.  Until last month, I wondered at these authors, making such heinous claims.  I have been writing my novel for over a year without looking back, in true NaNoWriMo form, only rereading when I had spent too much time away to remember where I was.  And I have enjoyed it.  But what really keeps me going is looking forward to the revisions, the editing.  I love to write, but I really love to edit.  How could one consider the rewriting a disease?  Are these the authors that just hate editing, and want it to all flow from their fingers ready for print?  Those that look at reworking as punishment for their failures in fabrication?  I was so excited about it.  How could they hate it so.

Again, I was looking at it wrong.  I get it now.

I recently halted the writing of my novel to give some attention to the first ten pages, despite my intentions to never do such a thing.  But I had to.  I signed up for my very first writing conference, complete with a critique group focusing on those very pages.

As much as I would have liked to bring my manuscript to a decisive close before tackling any edits, that wasn’t an option.  So I spent two weeks feverishly reworking my opening, determined to submit well before the deadline.  I reordered the scenes, developed a more compelling hook, fixed the grammatical blunders of the write til you drop approach, polished the rhythm of the prose, and evaluated the worth of every sentence.  And every time I thought I was 99% done I would print it out – you know, for the finishing touches – and find that I had only just begun.  Everything that looked okay before the Ctrl-P suddenly looked as though written by a kindergartner.  More red ink.  More paper in the recycling.

After several of these moments of literary frustration, I came to realize that not only was I not done, I wasn’t even working on the right part.  My carefully crafted opening would not serve as a very good opening at all.  I was starting in the wrong spot.  So I threw aside a few chapters and began again, the process looking very much like the first time, time now breathing down my neck with a little more heat and fervor.  Two more weeks, and with only a handful of hours left before the deadline, I submitted.

The rewriting virus is a strong one.  I only overcame it this time through externally imposed boundaries, and the knowledge that I wasn’t really submitting to an agent or anything so definitive as that.  I’ve got some time, while I plow through the rest of this manuscript with the editing blinders on, to inoculate myself against the pulls of perfectionism and OCD, and I fear that I’ll need every minute of it.  Time and some healthy spoonfuls of humility.

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