Rewrite Exhaustion

No, not me, I’m pretty chipper here, getting plenty of sleep, beautiful day, everything’s fine. 

I’m talking about exhausting my text by rewriting.  

There comes a time when I’m not rewriting any more, I’m just washing garbage.  That is, there’s good stuff in there, but the scene itself is so compromised that doing it again and again is just nuts: I’ve washed all the life out of the scene and now I’m just scrubbing at the structure points.  It becomes incomprehensible.  

In the case of the breakfast scene, I have seven different versions in a desktop file, and that’s not counting the others that are stashed in folders in Dropbox.  So I’ve been reading through them and trying to combine them and I finally thought, This is nuts.  You know this is nuts.  

The thing is, I write stories because I like writing, not revising.  Revising is necessary and I do like analyzing and seeing the bones of the scene under the words, but the words are still what’s important.  So while the breakfast scene is crucial and has to accomplish a lot, it’s not a set of Lego blocks, it’s a story.  And I don’t assemble stories, I write them.

So the breakfast file folder is now closed, and I’m writing the scene from scratch.  Well, not scratch: I know everything that’s going to happen in it, I know the shape of it, I have an outline of it, I know what comes before it and what comes after it.  But all of that is the reason I have to start over and write it fresh.  The previous drafts exhausted that version of the scene.  I’ve got too much new information about it now, the scenes around it have changed too much.  

.The one tip-off that I’m doing the right thing?  It’s such a relief.  I love writing and this scene has so much good, fun stuff in it.  I needed to write the other versions to get here, but now it’s time to set them free and write the scene as it’s meant to be.

Now, it’s fun again.

19 thoughts on “Rewrite Exhaustion

  1. Do you remember once having an discussion on the old yahoo group about dissecting a story? Dissecting a dead cat can be a learning experience – dissecting a living kitten just kills it and makes it into a dead cat. Useful in its own way but not a real substitute for the kitten.

    You taught me that.

    I hope you find the oomph in your scene again.

  2. Sounds like a pie crust moment. Too much stirring and kneading, and you have to start again.

    1. I’ve used the muffin analogy: Overwork the copy, and it’s tough to swallow. And yes, this applies to not only fiction but also copy about HVAC controls, fiber optic networks and industrial pumps.

  3. Epiphanies can be so *cleansing* and activating. Sounds like yeast has bubbled and is ready for use. You just make that scene rise!

    (I’m not your critique friend. That scene always works for me, throughout its many incantations.)

  4. You rock. It’s had to dump a draft you worked to hard on, but the truck draft felt not as much fun as your earlier drafts. It may be more ‘how to write a novel’ correct’, but the sheer fun of your voice feels a bit flat.
    You are my hero.
    You give me courage. I am going back to dump my second chapter.

  5. I’m studying a bit. Have to push out academic words. Amazes me that I can do it.

    The only way it is easier is when I find the “heart” of the matter. The heart is the how and why the issue is emotionally meaningful to me. Once I get that, it is a breeze.

  6. The comments were closed on the first scene by the time I read it (yesterday), but I wanted to say I loved it. And it spurred me to take another run at my first scene, which I’ve written three times, then cut completely, then realized had to be there because she, not he, is the protagonist. Teaching by example.

    I had a question about Checkov’s bottle. Does that (Nick saying that) break the fourth wall? Or is there a completely-inside-the-story meaning that I don’t understand?

    1. It might dent the fourth wall but I don’t think it breaks it. I might have to cut it anyway, but I liked the idea of lampshading it since the minute it’s left on the bar, the reader knows somebody’s going to drink it.

      I just knocked out the scratch rewrite of the breakfast scene and now I’m going to cleanse my brain palate by watching some news and cleaning some kitchen. Then back to do a final run through and put it up. It’s better but still not good. ARGH.

      1. You’re going to cleanse your brain palate by watching some *news*? Cleaning some kitchen, I understand, or fixing some garden. Interval before final run-through, okay, but cleanse your brain palate by watching some *news*? What what?

        1. Flynn just offered to roll over for the Senate committee, or at least he asked for immunity, which usually does not mean “I’m innocent and I have nothing to hide.” This whole mess is coming apart at the seams. It’s great reality TV, or it would be if it wasn’t my country getting the crap beat out of it.

  7. So glad you’re happy about the “new write” ’cause it’s not a rewrite. I know you’ll get all that good crunchy stuff in there that you always do.
    After a few writerly chats at conference last week I’m finally solidly back into the writing. It’s so good and necessary to have those chats. And to take a few workshops. Did a boot camp with Deb Dixon. Great to revisit GMC and The Hero’s Journey.

  8. Cutting critique of “hero’s journey” in my San Diego Union-Tribune this morning on op-ed page. Well argued by an editorial writer I usually dislike. May have to rethink both writer and “hero’s journey.” May only apply to screenplays, though, not novels. YMMV.

    1. This?

      I agree with some of his argument. The idea that one size fits all is ridiculous, I didn’t like Save the Cat at all because it was so damn formulaic, and I’ve never been able to write a Hero’s Journey book because I think those are better for epics and adventure than romance. Also–here is where my former students all groan in unison–linear storytelling is not the only way to go, although the vast majority of movies are told that way and the vast majority of readers and viewers expect linearity.

      But if you’re writing a linear plot, you’re following a line to the end. And if that line stays flat, your story does, too. So you need the conflict intensifying, and you need the story reinventing itself along the way and I will even argue for the all is lost because I don’t think you get true transformation in human beings until they hit bottom (they get to define the bottom), I think you need that going-to-hell crucible moment if you’re writing a transformative story, which most stories are.

      But you don’t have to. And following a detailed outline like Save the Cat or even the Hero’s Journey can make a story seem like you’re connecting dots instead of explaining a protagonist’s struggle. I like the idea of turning points because they’re reminders that I have to change things up; “six things” and trying to figure out a mentor would make me nuts.

      It does annoy me when people talk about how lousy all these scripts are because they follow a structure. That’s not why they’re lousy, they’re lousy because people weren’t good writers. Without structure, you have lousy that doesn’t make sense and doesn’t go anywhere. Structured lousy is better than unstructured lousy. It’s not the structure that’s killing creativity, it’s lack of creativity that’s enabling all this proscriptive formulaic structure.

      And now I must go make eggs and toast because I’ve been writing about that and I’m hungry.

      1. I remember reading a post once about the movie Jupiter Ascending, which countered the claim some made that it didn’t properly follow The Hero’s Journey with the argument that it wasn’t a Hero’s Journey story at all, but a Secret Princess story, with its own tropes and elements. I think formulas are kind of like recipes– most cake recipes have basic common ingredients, and while you can change some things and it’ll still be a cake, changing others might instead get you brownies, or a loaf of bread. And since Hollywood’s all obsessed with cake being the best dessert, a very good loaf of bread will be judged as a very poor cake (and heaven forbid you try to offer a pie!). (Speaking of which, I still have leftover pie in the fridge…..)

        It’s a lot harder to find other story structures to study, but I found a lot of examples here: Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey in particular caught my eye: And I especially love this quote from Sean Hood’s blogpost “Real Myths are Weird”: “Great stories are strange. Myths are bizarre. And, while all these heroes and heroines still reflect, at least in part, the generic features of the Hero’s Journey, it is precisely the way these tales diverge from the norm that makes them memorable.”

        *cough* Pulling back from that tangent…. It’s such a relief to hear that sometimes we do in fact need to stop editing and just start fresh. My early attempts at editing in particular always seemed to turn into “writing a new story that only vaguely resembles the original story and might as well be another rough draft that by the time I edit again will turn into yet ANOTHER new story….” And while a lot of that was due to inexperience (and probably ADD) I still feel kind of guilty and like I’m making no progress when I start even a small scene over. Thanks for the reminder that it’s still progress and often exactly what the story needs!

  9. Off topic, I headed over to Popcorn Dialogues to look up a movie, only to find there was a problem with limited access. 🙁 As always, following along with you is a master class in writing. Thank you.

    1. That’s because Alastair told Lani he’d give the site back and didn’t.
      So Mollie took over and e-mailed him and then called him. He’s not answering her.
      I just left a note in his twitter feed. I’m annoyed.


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