Rewriting: A Blessing and a Curse

Well, it has been a most eventful summer, my friends.   Thus, my absence from this blog. Relationships have come and gone, new horizons have been tackled. But now I have settled into the groove of teaching again this fall semester, and I’m writing again.

As A Light from the Ashes reached a point where I needed space from it before I could continue editing, I started to think what writing projects I wanted to work on next.  I wrote some snippets in my modern literary fiction piece.  I started researching the historical fiction piece.  But nothing was really holding my attention for more than a couple of days here or there.  They weren’t the big projects I wanted to throw my heart into.

I started to think about my first novel, Loving Silence.  I have known for the past couple of years that it needed a rewrite before it would be ready for publishing.  But I was too close to it to be able to objectively approach that, and then I was involved in the intoxicating A Light from the Ashes.  So, Loving Silence  was off my radar.  But the more I thought about responses from agents to both books, the more I started to realize that if I could do it right, Loving Silence had enough of a unique niche to possibly be the one that would be get picked up first.

So, I decided to revisit my old friend.

The Evolution

I began writing Loving Silence as just a fun exercise in a fiction writing class in 2009 during my undergrad studies.  I was kind of fascinated by some things I’d read about Boston Marriages, and thought of a simple idea for a story merely to fulfill an assignment to write and workshop a chapter.  Then I began writing in earnest over the next two years.  And used my unfinished novel as a Master’s Project in my graduate studies.

I finished the first draft in the summer of 2012 and presented it to a committee of professors who then read it and gave me feedback.  I then worked on Draft 2, and wrote a paper about the entire experience.  I felt pretty proud of myself and my work, despite the fact that one of the professors insisted that the story was deeply flawed in some very important places.

She didn’t understand what I was trying to do, I told myself.  I was the misunderstood artist.  And I started sending out the first few chapters to literary agents.  Although several asked for more pages, and sometimes the entire manuscript, ultimately, the novel was rejected by all.  So, I put it aside until 2016.

I did a minor editing job on it, still not addressing the deeply flawed portions, and started sending it out to agents again.  The same thing happened…initial interest, eventual rejection.

Why Rewrite?

Fast forward  two years.  In that time my personal life, which had always held too strong of a sway over the story, did a complete 180 degree turn around, and suddenly I could see the flaws my professor had commented on years ago.  Also in that time, I had learned the most valuable lesson of allowing my characters to make choices for themselves and live their own lives, rather than trying to impose upon them my own agenda.

Beyond that, I made the most difficult decision, which was that I felt the story needed to have two first person narrators rather than one third person omniscient narrator.  What this effectively means is that I will have to rewrite every blessed word of this novel, rather than just doing a cut/paste job on what’s there.

While this isn’t always the best way to approach every rewrite, for this project, it was what needed to happen, and I believe it is the only thing that could bring these characters to life for me again.

Some significant changes are happening with character and plot as well.  I’m revisiting my research and getting excited all over again about how to bring these characters to life in the best way for the story.  I’m no longer imposing my will on them or trying to fit them into the same box I was trying to force myself into.  And through that process, they are becoming three dimensional characters.

What’s the Blessing?

When we first finish a writing project, especially a long one, in many ways, we are married to that piece, for better or worse, in sickness and in health.  We’re in the honeymoon stage, and we can’t imagine that our love, our baby is anything but beautiful and perfect the way it is.  We can’t see the flaws, and maybe even get defensive if anyone else mentions them.

Distance is often necessary for writers to be able to objectively look at their work, and the only thing that can accomplish that distance is time away.  For me, six years was how long it took me to become objective about this first novel.  (I can’t imagine that length of time will always be necessary.)  Six years, and a great deal of growing and changing in my personal life.

But now that I’m back in the trenches with this novel, I feel like I’m having a reunion with old friends.  I’m having the time of my life with these characters as I’m getting to know them again.  And I truly believe the story will be better for it.  In some ways, it will be truer to my original idea than I ever thought possible.

As writers, and as humans, we have to learn to embrace change, embrace the unknown, and to let go, even a little bit, of some of the control we try so desperately to hold onto.