January 29, 2010

Writing is Re-Writing

I have been told many times - Writing is Re-writing; a big part of the writing process is not just telling the story but reshaping it, polishing it. To me writing used to be about telling the story and writing the first draft, a naive belief that writers can just channel their stories into perfect prose onto the page as Mozart did with his music in Amadeus. Alas it isn't so, even a literary genius like Ernest Hemingway re-wrote one scene 27 times, so I guess for someone starting out like myself it would probably take 100 re-drafts. This is a frustrating process. I find myself editing a piece and wanting to delete it from my computer and burn the hardcopies. Even though writing is a labour of love sometimes it just gets darn right irritating and frustrating and you swear you hate it, want to take up something less dedicated like throwing paint on canvas as a form of expression - but you can't. There lies a compulsion inside to just keep going. Write everyday - was another word of wisdom given to me; to look at writing like a professional sport, some dabble in it part time on the weekends like those who play tennis for leisure, but others who train day after day and endure the blood, sweat and tears are the ones who go on to be pro-athletes.

I love first drafts. I find them exciting to write because I feel I'm truly living the story then and there. I wrote my last novel during NaNoWriMo in a month and it was an exhilerating experience. I became so engrossed in that world I fell in love with my book and the characters in it. I am proud of the story I came up with and it was a wonderful experience realising I could actually write every day and make time for it even with a PhD in Physics in the pipeline. When NaNoWriMo was over I wanted to do something with that novel - but I had to face the dreaded editing problem I ran away from all my life. I brought a lot of books on writing hoping to learn from them, I joined an English speaking critique group in Madrid to help with some outside perspective and meet other writers - but I decided to put the novel to rest for the moment and work on actually learning to edit and to write, I started to write and focus on short stories.

Why short stories? Well one, they are much shorter than the behemoth of my 75,000 word novel which makes life a lot easier when it comes to editing and feedback. Also, if I could get my short stories up to par and get something published I could have some actual literary credits to my name.

Overall it's been good. Even since November I have already learned a lot. Editing fiction is not as daunting as I imagined it to be; I used to think it was just about tidying up the grammar which I confess is my Achilles heel since I am 1. Dyslexic and 2. Even though English is my first language, technically, I grew up in a non-English speaking country. I was learning and speaking Hungarian fulltime between the ages of 7-11, not a long time but a very crucial one. Yes, I have been told I write like a non-native speaker a lot. However I like to think considering my background I am not doing too badly and there is always room to learn.

Editing is more than just grammar, it's about putting the best, most coherent story forward. It's about learning to give more from your writing and to let the image that plays so clearly in your mind be watched by the person reading the story. Also for me it's about learning to find the voice and the technique which works best. I have written the same story from different styles - the first draft full of over-done description, the second stripped bare to a stark minimalist contract, the next written using action to convey the descriptions; it's a frustrating process. Sometimes the next draft is worst than the previous, but you have to learn from trial and error; then the draft after is even better than anything you have ever written.

I find a critique group can help fill in the gaps that you miss. I find the group I go to in Madrid has not only given me the motivation and encouragement I need (as well as the opportunity to meet some wonderful people) but I am learning about what works, and what doesn't. Talent isn't enough. Sometimes it will take 27 drafts of a story to make it good, and that is not a game for dabblers.

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