Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Writing on Writing – Rewrites

I spent a lot of time this past weekend working on the novel. I’ve gotten to a point where various threads of the tale are coming together, so I went back and re-read a lot of pages and sections that I had written long ago to make sure that I had it right. It was interesting, to say the least.

As I re-read some sections, I remembered writing them originally – most of it when I lived in Albuquerque. My den was in a second bedroom in the house that overlooked our small patch of garden, and I can still remember what it was like. At times I would get so wrapped up in the work that I would start in the early afternoon and suddenly finding myself squinting at the computer screen because the room had gotten dark – it was now evening. The only distraction would be the occasional sigh from Sam as he lay on the carpet by my desk.

I don’t write in long stretches. I will go for a page or so before I stop and go back to revise and edit, or I will struggle with a sentence or a piece of dialogue. Sometimes I have trouble making the leap from one paragraph to another, so I will insert something that I consider to be completely inane just to fill in the space while I get to the next part; Lanford Wilson calls them “bridges.” Ironically, I will go back to remove those bridges and more often than not find them to be perfectly adequate. That tells you something, I guess – either my bridges are not that inane, or the whole novel is.

That is the beauty of writing on a computer. I can’t imagine not being able to go back and make changes and have it all seamlessly fit in. No longer do I have to go back and scratch out and pencil in until the manuscript is a jumble of erasures and cribbed notes. There are those who believe that the process of re-writing is where the real work is done; where the raw material is honed and crafted, and that a true writer must be able to go back and see his choices time and again, and only when he is sure that it is right is it ready for publication. I guess it’s all a part of the mantra that an artist must suffer for his work to be meaningful. Well, for me the struggle is in getting the thoughts onto paper – or electrons, if you wish, and re-writing, whether it’s with an eraser or a delete key, is part of that.

I wonder what John Steinbeck could have done with Microsoft Word…or AppleWorks.