Dante’s 8th Circle of Hell: Rewrites

Writing a manuscript that is worthy of more than a spot the trash bin can be a BIT of a commitment, but… today I reached about the halfway point of what I refer to as “Rewriting Hell”.

For those of you who didn’t spit out a masterpiece on the first or second try, I know you feel me on this.

Symptoms of this stage may include:

  • Your writing desk disappearing below crumpled up notecards and outlines
  • Feelings of hopelessness and despair
  • Hitting your forehead repeatedly during the rewriting process
  • Dwindling caffeine/hard liquor supplies
  • Groaning when anyone asks how the novel is going
  • Sleepless nights from open-ended plotlines
  • Only seeing the flaws in the chapter you are currently working on
  • A recent and habitual devotion to things that are NOT WRITING, like waxing the toilets, giving your dolly collection haircuts, or counting the rotations of the ceiling fan

As a perfectionist and turtle at the keyboard, this is easily the step I have spent the most time on. Seriously, I’ve lost count of what number draft this first novel is on. I finished my very first rough draft of the story after about two years of working on it, and I remember thinking I was so close to being done.

It was after I got the first feedback on my story that the impending dread and confusion began to set in. Reality hit. Hard. My introduction was so top-heavy that some of my poor Beta readers couldn’t even get past the opening chapters (bless their hearts for trying). Not everything was bad, but the reaction wasn’t at all what I was hoping for. Stubborn cuss that I am, I didn’t believe them.
They just didn’t understand.

So, in order to argue on behalf of my book, I started to read up on self-editing and plotting. I bought books on world-building and sought out films and other media with examples of “good writing”.  I joined SCBWI and even began this frivolous blog.

The thing is, the more I learned about what makes a story good, the more I started to have second thoughts about my first draft. Doubt settled in. And while I am not one of the writers who gave up at this point, I am sure many have. I still struggle with the doubt today, but I remain a willful captive of the mighty pen. And while a complete mess at points, that story told in the first manuscript is, to me, too precious to abandon.

A story grows with a person; it can’t be stagnant. As much as part of me wanted to keep that precious first draft with me, I graduated from it. In order to go with me, it had to grow legs and become a living, breathing monster (complete with googly eyes!). That’s what rewriting has been about for me. The more I learned to hone my craft, the more my manuscript had to change.

That’s the gist of how I dove headfirst into Rewriting Hell. I’ve plotted to my heart’s content. I’ve broken several coffee cups getting her. But the end is in sight!

I’ll leave you with some encouraging words from a favorite Ghibli film of mine, Whisper of the Heart (1995). The story follows a middle school girl who tries her hand at writing her very first novel. After reading her first draft, Mr. Nishi tells her that she has to keep polishing her work. He reminds her not to expect perfection at first, but that her manuscript is like a raw rock; it’s true value isn’t seen until it’s been polished over and over again.

“When you become an artist, you are like that rock. You are in a raw, natural state with hidden gems inside. You have to dig down deep and find the emerald studs there way inside you. And that’s just the beginning… You should be very proud for all your hard work. You dug inside your soul and found some real gems. Next, you need to polish it. Which will also take a lot of work.” – Mr. Nishi, Whisper of the Heart

Keep chipping away, my pen junkies. Find what is worthwhile in your story. Chin up!


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