If you’re a writer who has undertaken the task of rewriting any one of your stories, please allow me to give you a hug, some cuddles, and ten boxes of your favourite candy.
If you’re a reader, you get a hug and the cuddles too. But, you’re going to have to send me the candy instead. Or make it a cinnamon roll. I love those!
Over the years (and by that I mean more than two decades), I’ve written a lot of stories. There was a time I even began to write poetry. But then one night, William Butler Yeats appeared to me in a dream, and his message was simple.
“Do not fuck around with poetry.”
I stopped fucking around with poetry.
Life went on, and I wrote more and more, then less and less, and eventually I just got back into it and didn’t stop. I never shared my work with anyone for the longest time, but slowly I began to get out of that extremely private writing convent I’d mentally cloistered myself in, and when I did, everything changed.
I maintained a blog for a few years, where I posted my ramblings, articles on social issues and whatever else I felt the need to write about.
When I began publishing stories online, they were to my surprise, well received. But, by then my attention was already shifting from simply writing out pieces on this or that. Although at the time I wasn’t certain as to what it was shifting towards.
I carried on that way for a while, regardless of the uncertainty. Some stories turned out nice enough, some got left unfinished, some were tossed in the bin, and a few never made it past the idea stage. I was restless and it was starting to show.
Then, about a year or so ago and completely on a whim, I began writing a story which was at the outset very different from anything I’d written before. I could feel it every-time I got to penning down the characters in the tale.
As they grew, the story grew, and so did my readership. So much so, that I would most likely have become overwhelmed by the response the story got, had it not been for my mind which remained oblivious to almost everything around.
I became obsessively focused. I spent most nights writing till the sun came up and it was time for my kids to get ready for school. My free time was spent on thinking, researching, debating with myself, researching some more. I jotted down notes on whatever was at hand, and, for five straight months I literally ignored or became oblivious to almost everything in my life, and I just kept writing till the story’s end. Over 600,000 words. I still don’t know how.
When it was finished, I told myself to take a break, and try to ignore the emails from friends telling me to “Just publish it already!” Within a week I jumped into another project, and then another. A few months later the restlessness returned and ignoring it, I continued writing.
But, my heart wasn’t in it anymore, the story I’d completed still played on my mind. So like a complete fool, I began yet another writing project. (So many falls guys. There are so many falls when you’re a writer.)
Eventually I reached a point where I was just writing for the sake of getting the words out, while all around me people still wanted to read the story I’d finished months before. The emails still arrived, and advise from friends telling me to edit the manuscript didn’t stop. And, it made me so miserable, I knew I was in trouble.
So, one day, I was browsing through my folders and opened up “the” story which had not long before taken over my life. I thought it wouldn’t hurt to read it and maybe consider all the advice.
I began to read.
When I reached chapter five, I closed the document and moved it to the Recycle Bin.
A few days later, I restored it back to the folder and read chapters six through eleven. I closed the damn thing again, but this time it didn’t go to the bin.
That night after everyone was in bed, I fixed myself a pot of strong coffee, sat down in my little balcony and began to read the story from the start and as if someone else had written it. By morning I was done, and for the rest of the day, the coffee machine stayed on, the cup near me somehow got repeatedly refilled and everything around me faded to black while I attacked that document with a vengeance.
By that evening I had the first outline of my second write on the story completed, five character sketches in place, and a general plot line with enough open ends for me to mull over at a later date. When I finally closed my groaning laptop, I spent some well deserved time with my kids, gave them dinner, got them to bed and then I collapsed and slept for ten straight hours.
After that came the difficult part. Telling the ones I wanted to tell.
To my husband I said (and with a lot of false bravado) “I’ve decided to rewrite my story, because what I wrote before was really just the first draft of it.”
He barely glanced up from the book he was reading. “OK.”
OK? I mean… Seriously? OK? That’s all I got from the man I made mushy vows before God and people to? O-fucking-K.
I stifled the urge to strangle him, popped open my laptop and began clacking away, ignoring his annoyingly smirking face.
Next up were two people I was literally dying to tell. But, I put it off for a few days, and eventually just sort of slid it into a conversation we were having. “Um, so guys, I was thinking… and um… I feel I should, you know… rewrite my story.”
I can swear I heard Sahar’s excited (and disturbingly orgasmic) shrieks all the way from Lahore to Karachi. She also and very smugly mentioned several times how she just knew I was going to pull this at some point. And that she’d been waiting for it.
I wanted to spank her with a hairbrush for all my months of misery that her otherwise mouthy mouth could have prevented.
Chani was a lot more calm. But, that’s Chan. She’s our guru of balance and zen.
“If that’s what you want to do, Anne, you should do it. Because, it’s a great story.”
And that was that.
Rafa was a combination of both. She was excited but not shrieky, calm but not zen. She promised to read and write me wordy essays on each chapter. Sometimes her essasys are longer than the chapter, but she’s thorough, and does a great job of dissecting every word I write. I allow her to do that, because you know, one day… Free family doctor!
I began to write. I asked a few people who I trust have a critical eye to read it. They haven’t rolled their eyes at any of the chapters yet. So, I’m optimistic.
Moral of the story? Rewrites are important. They’re very important. You write, you re-read, you rewrite and then you do it again and again till your story is as close to perfect as you can get it.
And every celebrated author, or writer worth their salt will tell you that. Because, every celebrated author and writer of any worth has never, and will never consider their first write of a story to be the finished product after editing it for typos and drawing up a fancy book cover.
That’s not writing. And, it’s certainly not respecting the art, the reader who buys the book, or your talent and skill.
Writing is hard work. It’s not going from Word document to New York Times Bestseller list in one, swift and easy move. It takes time to get the writing right, it takes patience, it takes a lot from you. And, you willingly give it.
You keep giving, because at the end of the day, it’s your chosen craft, not something you’re doing to have your ego stroked. Like a lump of clay it needs to be molded and refined, then polished and painted. Sometimes the lump won’t amount to much, but you give your hands a rinse and keep at it till it does. One day, it might turn into something great. Maybe it won’t, but that’s OK too.
There will always be plenty more lumps of clay left over to try with again.