Monday, September 28, 2009

The Requisite Rewrite

I wrote my first book, which totaled about 90,000 words, in eight weeks.

It showed.

Sure, it had a beginning, middle and end. I even had characters with solid emotions and experiences, but what I didn’t have until more recently was a clean story. A clean story keeps the reader moving along without the distraction of flowery writing or too much back story. I thought my first draft was great. I’d even gotten to plug in the word insouciance (always wanted to use that one) but, after reading it through the eyes of different beta readers, I realized that the first draft, basically, sucked. I had dangling modifiers, overboard metaphors and too many adjectives. I had a character who really could have been somebody, if only I let her. Instead, she read like a caricature. I had so many meanderings away from the real story, I forgot where I was going.

Then there was the issue of too much telling. “You need to show, not tell,” says one of my trusted set of reading eyes. “Rather than say ‘I love you,’ have him show it by placing his hand on her lower back and leaning in to kiss her.” Hmmm, I’d have to think about that one.

Back to the drawing board I went and I did so with a vengeance. Like Edward Scissorhands, I went at the manuscript chopping, cutting and tearing. I shredded the first and last chapters. I even resurrected one of my characters who died in the first draft. Too sad. Yes, an agent had said she had to pass on the book because it was “too sad and serious.” This is not why I resurrected my character, although I didn’t like someone describing the book as sad and serious. I brought her back to life because she turned into such a real person, I could not have her die.

The rewrite of book 1 has been more fun than the writing of book 1. I never knew how much power a writer has to rewrite her story, in whatever way she wants. Oh, it’s downright liberating.

The rewrite is ready for a reread. This may sound masochistic (I think a writer needs to be this), but I look forward to more rewrites. I do. It is like the fire purifying the gold, and I wouldn’t want anything but pure gold getting printed with my name on it.

Bring it on!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Finding Voice

It has taken me 43 years to find my voice. Being the youngest of five children, I stayed mostly silent as a child except for periodic squeaking after ritual teasing by my brothers and sisters. I tried my voice a couple of times, but it too often was met with disapproval or confusion. So, rather than rock the proverbial boat of a traditional home, I just kept most of my thoughts to myself. Mute.

Born and raised in a strict Catholic home, I couldn't help but question Jesus' bodily resurrection. Inquiring minds want to know. My scientific mind could not make sense of it. My faith in Him did not need his rising to be in a physical way. My questioning too often was met with, "If you had faith, you would just accept it." This rationale seemed preposterous, but I accepted that the conversational doors on this issue were closed and so would be my mouth.

"Can we please discuss the fact that Mary was a virgin and pregnant with our Lord? What if I told you I was pregnant and I was a virgin?" I once asked my mother. You can only imagine her response to that question. Seriously, if it happened to Mary, and we're all supposed to believe that it did, is it so far-fetched that it could happen to someone else? I really needed to discuss this. But it was not open for discussion.

I learned to write in my journal. Here I could struggle to host the conversations I needed to have come out of my mouth. The writing was stilted, most of the time, as if the words on paper might manifest themselves into the atmosphere, prompting the predictable disapproval I would get had I spoken them aloud. The voice was not perfect and free, but it was some small way of expressing my soul.

I dreamed of writing like Maya Angelou or Amy Tan. I played with words, tried to make them dance on the page like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, romanticizing the possibility that I could one day write something as beautiful. Even in my journal, the flow of my writing was disrupted by something. As if a big tree had fallen in the river of my natural flow -- the tree was the conflict between how I wished I could write and the silenced voice that was trying to come out. These two were not friends. I wished I was Maya or Amy but what wanted to come out sounded more jaded and sinister. Without this flow, I struggled with simple sentences because I spent most of my time resisting what wanted to come out.

Finally, I wrote my first short story and divulged the unspoken horrors of my heart. I let it pour out of me, hideous monsters living inside of me, scaring me, taunting me. I took a huge risk and put them out on the table. I looked at them. Secrets, thoughts, shame, terror. I let my imagination rip at my fingers and I typed the unthinkable. I read it back and winced. Horrible darkness on paper. Then I read it again. Not so bad. And again. That's actually kinda funny.

What appeared so scary became laughable. Fear transformed into something that could be manipulated into clever prose. By writing the short story, I had coughed up the fur ball that sat in my throat for too many years. I dislodged the tree that had fallen into my river and I let it flow. Ahhh...a free-flowing voice. Finally.

But, after I finally let her roar, I must admit that it came with a mild disappointment. The words came unencumbered and emancipated but not with the intellect of a Maya or Amy or the grace of Fred and Ginger. Instead, the voice I found was simple and used the verb "to be" way too much. But it came, it flowed, it continues to roar and that, really, is all that matters.