Some lessons are repeated until they are learned and some heads are thicker than others…that would be mine. Over the years in various writing classes I’ve attended and in numerous articles and books about writing I have read, re-writing is taught as being a crucial part of writing.
I have a tendency not to rewrite deeply because I always feel I lose the original spark of work when I rewrite. I tend to rewrite the energy out of a piece. A recent experience is having me rethink my reluctance. I’ve decided to write some children’s poems to submit to a magazine I loved in childhood. I won’t name the magazine except to say that it reads today almost as it did when I was a child except for the fact that the illustrations now include children of various ethnicities.
A lot of the poetry in this magazine rhymes and I’ve been wrestling to get the rhymes and rhythm right. I looked at the three poems I’d written for several days changing a word here or there but not really tearing apart the poem and starting anew. I didn’t want to let go of the work I’d already done. In each of the poems there was a stanza that just wasn’t working.
Finally, in exasperation, I started fresh and threw certain lines out and re-worked the order of others. Voila, new poems appeared. Poems with words that were easier to rhyme and that flowed better. Discarded lines have been saved to be used later because just because they’re not useful now doesn’t mean that they won’t be useful in another poem or story.
Guess what else I learned? I learned that I can write because I want to and not just because I’ve been inspired. The aforementioned magazine is especially interested in poems that will appeal to boys and I decided to give myself the assignment to write poems that would appeal to young boys. I’ve come up with two thus far.
Did I mention that I don’t write poetry very much any more since fiction and essays are my preferred genres? Yet poetry and the ability to write in that form still exist in me. Letting go of the rules you impose on yourself frees you up to discover new vistas!
I’ve certainly said to others, “If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten, so try something new.” Now, I have to say, hear and live this bit of wisdom myself: I am a writer, a writer writes and re-writes. Everyday.
Sometimes a story or poem does come to mind delivered nearly complete. This is a gift from the universe and your internal muse, but this shouldn’t be the way one expects the writing to come. I’m reading The O. Henry Prize Stories: 2008 Best Stories of the Year. One of the writers, Olaf Olafason, says this about his story, “On the Lake.” “I wrote it in about a week and didn’t change much when I was done, not more than a sentence here and there. I guess the story must have been dormant someplace in my mind, waiting to be told.”
See, I’m not the only one who has had a story delivered whole from the muse. But, I am learning that it is the discipline of writing that matters as much as the inspiration and talent. (This truth may be “self-evident” but self-evident truths are easy to ignore and very easy to skip in one’s own life.) The books, Bird-by-Bird by Anne Lamont and This Year you Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley, offer encouragement on the craft of writing. The O. Henry anthology shows that good writing is a miracle and that there are people from all over the world who have achieved this miracle. I hope to join that number.
whisper, whisper – BTW – I have had one of my stories accepted by a publication.* Once it is published, I will let you, dear readers, know about it. Yippee!
*I also had a poem not published but was sent a personalized rejection letter that told me it came close to being selected. That discouraged me for a few minutes and then I went on to sned out other submissions because nothing succeeds but a try!