Let’s Talk About Re-write

Coach said to me once, “You know you’re a writer when you write the same book twice—and intend to.”

About three years ago I finished a novel.  It had a rough birth and childhood.  It started as a short story but since I liked the characters, in a moment of folly I decided to give them their own book.

After wrestling the thing through three rewrites, from third person to first, the addition of four chapters to tell more of the story, and a year with the able help of Chris DeSmet, I thought the book was ready for publication.  So I put it up on Amazon e-books in January.

Just about the time it went up on line and was read by all of two people, I received a call from a friend I haven’t heard from in thirty-five years.  She found me on Face Book, liked my stuff, and said she and a friend had started a publishing company.  It’s a POD, but they do know how to market.  Also, I would be getting some first hand, hands on, hands all over my work.  Since this is the element severely lacking in most POD companies, I said “sure.”

Along with the offer to publish came the requests for rewrite.  For the last three months I have been struggling to reorder the book, change some characters and flesh out others while trying to keep it all straight.

I don’t know how you start to rewrite, but I start by doing the laundry.  Then I make the bed, clean the cat box and straighten the kitchen.  If I had a dog I would walk it about this time.  Finally, I’m at the computer.  I track my changes, because otherwise, I wouldn’t know what I wrote, what I cut and what I just might want to add back into the text.  I also go into “writer’s mode.”  The way it affects me is that I am perpetually distracted.  I rarely speak to my family and am reminded of a quote from an author who said, “It’s hard to tell my wife I’m working when I’m staring out the window.”

While in this attitude of mental suspension, I keep an eye and ear out for things that don’t ring true in my own writing, including things I have now read endless times.  Poets do this all the time, which keeps them fiddling with their writing long past publication.  Luckily with prose you have to stop somewhere this side of copyright.

I don’t work well in a complete vacuum, so there are a few people I let read my stuff after about three drafts.  My method of operation with poetry does transfer here to prose.  If someone comments and suggests something and I immediately think, “Eureka” I change whatever it is.  If I am doubtful, I wait until three people tell me the same thing.  Then I swear under my breath and do some serious rewrite.

Here is where this project has taught me new lessons.  One of publishers is a long-time creative writing professor.  We went back and forth over suggestions.  I let my MO take me through this and made some extensive changes to the structure of the book and to some of the characterizations.  In all honesty, it was an improvement.  I have a better manuscript.

Then we got to style and voice.  The professor objected from the beginning to my style.  I never quite squared that with the further observation that the publishers, “loved my writing and that it jumps off the page.”  She took the first pages of the novel and edited them.  I didn’t like the edits, but also didn’t want to rely on my own prejudices about taste.   I sent the drafts to five readers I trusted and waited.  The verdict came back as a unanimous, “don’t change a thing.”

Now I’ve been writing for thirty years.  I have a voice and a style that is mine.  It’s not the clickety-clack style of modern writing but I do have an ear for appropriate dialogue.  In addition, the poetic muse does intrude a lot.  This has never been a problem for my readers, since my first novel sold reasonably well with no marketing and I have published the best of my short stories and poetry.  Some of these have even won money in the form of cashable checks.  In addition, some of the best advice I ever had was in graduate school from the head of the department.  She was going over a short story of mine with me when she stopped.  “You know,” she said.  “You don’t have to change a word if you don’t want to.”

I informed the publishers I would not make the additional changes.  They informed me they wouldn’t take the manuscript without them.  We dissolved the contract.  It would have been nice to see a publisher’s logo on the spine of the book, but not at the expense of what was between the covers.

I’m back to negotiating with Create Space.  I’ll let you know what happens.

In the meantime I’m doing what I call final polish.  Every day I print out 20 pages of the text.  I don’t edit well on the screen, so I read the pages with my trusty red pen.  I read for clarity, word choice and continuity.  The following morning I plug into the text on the computer any changes and then print out the 20 pages to be edited that day.

Today I’m also e-mailing this to Coach.  I’m sure he’ll want some rewrite.