The (Re) Write Blog: Issues, Perils, and Semi-Solutions

As those of you who read the print column and a few, scattered previous entries on said blog may or may not be aware, I’m working on a novel to use as my thesis for my MFA and then use as “walking around money” while applying for a post-graduation job as a bartender in the Blue Sapphire Lounge aboard the Carnival Cruise line Ecstasy. As it stands in real time, one draft of said novel has been completed and I am now working on the re-writes.

Generally speaking, re-writes are easier than whipping up new, fresh drafts because you already see the themes in place and (hopefully) know where you’re going to be pushing your characters. Unfortunately, “generally speaking” about my novel doesn’t really work while writing it, and I have hit several rocky patches along the way, if by “rocky” I mean “impossibly frustrating, tear-inducing periods of intense melancholy”. With that said, I am going to present three major problems I’ve faced during the re-writing process and the solutions (or non-solutions) to said problems. The thinking is that by seeing the issues I have, you can take steps to avoid some of your own…or at least write a very similar book to mine that will probably sell sooner.

Re-write Issue One: Introducing a new character that wasn’t previously in the first draft.

Specifics: The first draft of my novel had a lot of dudes. And a few girls. Ok, like two girls. But there was a certain need for a girl (friend) that wasn’t directly invested in the main plot line and would also provide the narrator with a fresh perspective. And would make fun of him. And be good at basketball. Like, really good.

Peril: New character means new early chapters, which means whatever interactions they have will influence the thoughts of the narrator throughout the book, which means you have to change more things, or at least make sure they stay consistent, which means more work, which sounds daunting especially when written down.

Solution: Create character with a personality based loosely on friend of friend and the athletic prowess of an average WNBA two guard, and have them meet on the basketball court. Write up brief background bio and keep relationship specific to this one place, ridding yourself of having to incorporate them into other scenes. Feel smart about it when you begin talking about the basketball court being a “metaphor for the bubble surrounding their relationship”. Use the term “budding relationship dynamics” in your novel workshop class. Clear throat when nobody responds.

Re-write Issue Two: Realizing that you wrote some really, really, REALLY bad chapters. Kind of in the early middle.

Specifics: Chapters 4 and 5 are, in a word, unreadable. In two words, they’re breathtakingly horrifying.

Peril: Completely deleting sh*tty chapters that bridge the story line together is–like jai alai– a dangerous but necessary game to play. Not to mention, then you have to write two COMPLETELY new chapters in their place and we’ve talked previously about my work ethic.

Solution: Re-read chapter in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird regarding re-writes. Pout for several days refusing to even look at book. Get embarrassed that you could create such unthinkably poor prose. Play Big Buck Hunter 3 with friends at local dive bar, vent about problem. Note that friends only become vaguely sympathetic/concerned when you’re holding pitcher of beer. Go to Espresso Royale, avoid eye contact with hippies, create outline of things you need to salvage from said chapters to push book forward. Take those things. Delete the rest. Feel sensation similar to when putting out recycling.

Re-write Issue Three: Coming up with a working title for your book.

Specifics: Um, I don’t have a working title for my book. I thought I said that.

Peril: Without even a working title, book feels like a really, really long uncited lit paper. Plus, it just sounds better when–at parties– you can say, “Moving the conversation back to me, I’m currently in the throes of passionately re-writing my novel Waterworld 2: False Pretenses On the High Seas. It’s a hilarious love-dramedy with religious underpinnings. Anyways, I’m off to the after party with Eugenides, Franzen, and (R.)Kelly. Thank your wife again for the clam cakes.”

Solution: Go to canonical list of weird band names on the Internet 2.0. Read the band name “A Cat Born in an Oven Isn’t a Cake” and decide this is not going to help. Make list of all your favorite words while intense discussion about McEwan’s Atonement takes place around you during workshop. Decide “The Great Tongue Kiss Debacle” isn’t quite right. Brood.

And that’s all she wrote. Feel free to offer your own solutions/problems/perils in the Comments. And stay tuned for part 2 of the Two Question Novel Quiz later on this week.

We Belong to the Light, We Belong to the Thunder,

Pat,
Benatar

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7 thoughts on “The (Re) Write Blog: Issues, Perils, and Semi-Solutions

  1. Judy

    You know what’s even worse? When you’re a good chunk of the way into your rewrite and the plot suddenly takes an unexpected turn, forcing you to scrap the rest of the novel and start with another first draft. And, Ultimate Nightmare Scenario, when this happens more than once. At what point do you decide the whole project is doomed and you need to go find something else to do?

  2. Kevin Alexander

    Mindy,
    Wow. That’s major dedication. Color me impressed. I don’t think I could pull that off, even if I knew it was the best thing for me. Well played, indeed.

    Lisa,
    I don’t know what you’re talking about. I totally wrote Lamott the whole time:) (Thanks)

    Genevieve,
    I had the same exact problem with the Benatar song until I googled the lyrics, purchased it on iTunes, and played it over and over again while writing this blog. In unrelated news, I don’t really get why my roommate has taken to locking his bedroom door.

    Leah: Come on now. With the exception of Mitch Albom and Franklin W. Dixon, everyone writes sh*tty chapters. So I’m not letting you off the hook until you go back and write some more so you can actually see where it’s going and what you need to change. I don’t actually know how i’m going keep you on said proverbial "hook", but–like Beyonce says– you’re going to have to check up on it.

  3. Genevieve Cancienne

    I’m still on the first draft of my book, and my main problem is that I keep going back to change and tweak things when I know I should just wait until I have a whole manuscript to work with. I’m not good at being patient. I just want to be finished, so I think I’m trying to make my first draft my final draft. I’ve been writing articles and short stories long enough to know it doesn’t work like that.

    But in better news, now I know what Pat Benatar was saying! I understood "We belong to the light" but not "We belong to the thunder." I always slurred that part when I sang it out loud. "We belong to the light! We belong to,uh, blah, blah!" sung very dramatically of course, while driving.

  4. Leah

    I have problem number two, only it happens to me in the first two chapters. I proceed to take care of this problem by not writing anything, which is why I will *never* make it to the rewrite stage!

    So, you’re doing better than me and good luck!

  5. Mindy

    Issue 1 was my problem after my first draft was completed. Beyond introducing just one new character, I had to scrap an existing main character completely and replace him with a minor character that didn’t show up until the still unwritten sequel. This, naturally, led to a complete overhaul of the plot and I threw out the entire second half of the story, good chapters and bad. In short, I feel your pain. The upside is that all of the changes created a much better novel, and is worth the time and effort I’m still plugging into it.

    Good luck.

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