309. Rewriting

It’s where the real work begins.

Writing the first draft is like sex. It’s exciting. It’s surprising. It’s delightful. It gets tiresome at parts, but more often than not, the story finds new ways to jolt some electricity into you. And there’s no greater feeling than finishing.

(this, again, does not imply that Joseph Ng is getting any. In fact, the only thing that Joseph Ng is getting at the present moment is broke)

Rewriting and editing, after all the excitement is done and dead and laid to rest, is like raising the child that came out of the first draft. No, stop; don’t do that! Goodness, what a mess! Would you please get to the point? Come on now, son; I’m sure you think that’s clever, but it’s not half as clever that you think it is. Behave! Get into shape! Get dressed properly, I need to present you to the agents! WOULD YOU SIT STILL WHILE I CLEAN YOU UP?!

Pretty much.

After almost 8 months, I have opened the door and once again said hello to Johann. In the time we have spent apart, I have learned about acts and beats and the hero’s journey and the chiastic story structure and all sorts of fancy ways to do my sentences, and I’m determined to get this girl into shape and ready for presentation.

(I realize how hauntingly similar that sounds to the slave trade. Then again, when writers sell their stories, they essentially sell their spiritual children)

Even at the time that I completed the first edit, I knew that there was work still to be done for the story. The dialogues had to be smoothed out. The theme had to be stronger. The pacing had to be reworked, especially in that Magic Market segment. Characterization had to be more consistent. Facts had to be made accurate.

But, excited as I was to be holding an actual completed manuscript – like holding my firstborn child – in my hands, I was in a hurry to send it off. Also, it was 2 days before the deadline, and I had to make sure it would get to the proper authorities before the deadline slams the door shut.

The eminent Mr. King proposes that you leave your manuscript alone for at least 6 weeks before even taking a peek at it again. I begin to appreciate the wisdom behind that: after you’re done writing drunk, it takes a little bit of time before you can get to the work of editing sober. And if 8 months isn’t enough time to sober up, I don’t know what will be.

The space in between gives you time to reflect. To think about the things that you honestly could have done better, but took the easy way out instead. It gives you time to lose any emotional attachment you may have to particular sentences or phrases, and forces you to look at the work as a whole. In time, you’ll realize that to preserve the sanctity of the story, you have to kill your darlings, kill your darlings, kill your darlings.

(“Even if it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”)

I’ve only begun the work of editing Chapter 1 earlier this evening, and it already hurts to cut and rewrite. In fact, if I really want to get down to it, I’ll be cutting away 95% of Chapter 1. The only things left intact would be the names of characters. Out of 7 chapters, I have picked 3 out for major rewriting, and it looks like an arduous, if not long, journey ahead.

I wrote drunk, and I’m trying to edit sober. But no one told me about the horrible hangover that comes with getting sober.


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