Captain Obvious Talks About Rewriting


editor

Writing is rewriting.

This is not an original thought, but worth repeating.

The real point of any piece, the inner crankiness of malformed intent that pushes me to write, doesn’t emerge until the sixth or seventh draft, usually. (I’m writing for the terminally ill, after all —we’re all gonna die—and I don’t want to waste our collective valuable time with frilly froo froo stuff.

Don’t you have enough crap in your life already? Yeah. Me, too.

Writing is mostly staying at the chair and getting the first five versions out of the way so I can really begin to work, to follow the scent, to hone and polish and revel in the craft and mystery of it. I murder my own words for the greater glory of the correct ones still caught in a holding pattern and unable to land.

The final piece may look nothing at all like the first — or fifth, or eighth — draft. That’s just how it works.

The stuff I’m most unhappy with are the things that I pushed out into the light of day too soon.

Like this post, for instance.

This was only the fourth draft, and it shows. I should probably go back and cut about 20 percent more. 🙂

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15 Replies to “Captain Obvious Talks About Rewriting”

  1. Funny, I was entertaining these same sentiments – you just expressed them a heck of a lot better – I better move to draft 231 🙂
    There’s a great quote from Steinbeck (I apologize if you’ve heard it before)
    “Although sometimes I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining – I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance of aching inability -”
    Terrific post by the way – you chose the right version 🙂
    AnnMarie
    Happy Sunday

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    1. Boy, do I know how he felt. You do, too, I gather. It’s like trying to walk into a driving rainstorm, never entirely sure you’ll make it home. Hard work, but I can’t really see anything else being nearly as intriguing.

      And thank you for the kind words. 🙂

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      1. Yes, writing can be a bear – but a hungry bear is so much more interesting than a hibernating one.
        Enjoy what is left of Sunday 🙂
        AnnMarie
        Happy writing…

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        1. This made me think of an old joke about how fast you have to be to outrun a bear. Answer: you just have to be faster than your buddy.

          Only in my case, my “buddy” is the story I frantically write as I run and toss back to the bear, hoping it’s enough to satisfy him for a while.

          Jebus, no wonder I’m stressed out. 🙂

          In case you would find this useful: http://www.advicetowriters.com

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          1. I think I remember that joke 😉
            Hey, great site – I bookmarked it.
            Many thanks.
            AnnMarie
            And I’m positive that old bear grabbed a comfy seat on a nearby log – his hungry eyes fixed to your amazing prose 🙂

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  2. I just find this funny. “Seriously, how many versions of this post could you have done?” asked the impatient one. At first, I was merely a culprit wasting precious time, needing to uncover the words I really meant to dispatch and had no idea about. Then, I realized that I am basically a drunk and disorderly operator of a keyboard. I think you should have added in something about the self torture aspect of a writer. I think you said what you needed to say. I have a question though. Who does a writer write for? His self or the reader?

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    1. “Drunk and disorderly operator of a keyboard” That’s a good line. 🙂

      As to length…. I tend to bloviate too much, and I don’t always cut enough, but was trained by people who would say things like “Aw, hell, son, even the Declaration of Independence could be tightened up some.” It’s an elusive goal, to whittle away until just the essence is left. But it’s a worthwhile one.

      Your question is a good one, and you will get different answers. My personal feeling is that we write for ourselves, to start with. Or think we do. I suspect sometimes there’s a voice from somewhere else that uses us to get out into the world, too.

      But the reader is like a mirror, to help us tell whether we’ve been honest. And in the end, if it’s really working and we’re lucky, what we write closes a circuit in the audiences’ heart, and they have a moment when they recognize themselves in our words.

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      1. So, your intent is to relate in a clean and pure manner? How do you know truly know if you are being honest because the reader translates your words through their experiences? Is there always a singular connection to be had IF you have done your job and written well?

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        1. Well as you know, there is what you intend to do with the communication (whether with words or a design), and what actually gets through.

          And I don’t always know if I’m being honest. I depend on feedback as much as anything to know that.

          All I can try to do is be as authentic as I can and if I have any skill then that will come through.

          But I have to say I don’t trust pure emotion without any filtering through craft. If there’s any art involved it can’t be just self-indulgence; there has to be some sacrifice, some willingness to expose ourselves as creators.

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          1. I agree and I do it, but there is a difference when you do as Hemmingway supposedly said and “bleed”. It does come through and it feels different to write that way. But Hemmingplay, remember… All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. I bet you would know the antithesis to that statement, don’t you? xo, Jayne

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