Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I'm Not A Writer Anymore

by Julie Coulter Bellon

A few days ago I was sitting on my couch with my baby who was looking up at the ceiling as if she were fascinated by something there. My cat joined us and she also looked up at the ceiling like there was something really cool up there. Since everyone was looking up at the ceiling, I looked up, too, but I didn’t see anything fascinating or cool. Somehow I was missing it.

That is what is happening in my writing life as well, unfortunately. I submitted a manuscript in March of this year and was really excited about it. It was the story of Tyler, one of the characters in my book All’s Fair, and the events that happen to him while he is in Paris. I loved the story and was anxious to see the follow up to All’s Fair out there. Unfortunately, the committee at my publishing company wasn’t as excited about some aspects of the story and asked me to do a rewrite.

Thankfully it wasn’t a rejection and I didn’t mind doing a rewrite, but the truth is, I submitted the rewrite and they came back with the same thing—an offer of another rewrite. I’ve been offered a rewrite four times if I am counting correctly. It’s like the ceiling. I’m just not seeing what they are or are not seeing.

The problem seems to be the middle of my manuscript. Apparently, everyone loves the beginning and the end, but somehow feel the middle isn’t as great. So I reworked it and reworked it, took suggestions, sent it out to more people that I know who could critique it and help me see what I wasn’t seeing, and then I reworked it again. My reworking twisted the manuscript into a pretzel, but I still liked the story and thought it was good. But guess what? I was offered another rewrite.

So I’m not a writer anymore. I think I’ve officially become a RE-writer.

Being a re-writer is different than being a writer. Parts of it are easier because you have a skeleton of words and plot to work with, but you have to make sure that any changes you make also flow with what is originally there. For instance, I can’t have my main character suddenly understanding all the French that is being spoken around him during a pivotal scene, when in the beginning I mentioned that his French is pretty rusty. Re-writers also have to be careful not to gloss over things that they think they’ve written, but may not really be there because rewriters often forget what has been written and what hasn’t been written, especially when multiple rewrites have been done. But the other problem that re-writers fall into is re-writing the manuscript/scene/characters to death. Re-writers can tweak and fix and manipulate all day, but this is my question---when does a re-writer know that the manuscript is just beyond fixing and should be put to rest, if you know what I mean? At what point are you so sick of the story and the characters and rewriting their story, do you just say enough is enough? I mean, at this point I’ve read that story a good thousand or more times and I’m just not seeing my own mistakes anymore.

It’s like that darned ceiling. I’m looking at it, but not seeing anything.

So do I send it out to more people to help me see the light? Or do I just give up and move on to the next project and chalk up the hundreds of work hours I’ve spent on this as a life lesson? Do I just keep going on forever stuck in a rewrite rut?

Maybe I should look at that ceiling some more before I decide if I truly am a writer or am destined to be a re-writer. I’m obviously either not looking in the right place or I’m not looking hard enough. And I’m open to suggestions if you have any. (For my writing dilemma or for seeing the cool and fascinating thing on my ceiling that everyone can see but me.)


At 11/13/2008 12:45 PM, Blogger Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Ah. Such fun. Julie, do you have the luxury of just putting it away for a bit and working on something else? I heard Ray Bradbury speak a few years ago and he suggested that after finishing a book, a writer put it away for a year and then get it back out.

I don't have that luxury. A year is too much time. When you're writing as a living, which is what we do, you have to keep producing and turning something in. But if you do have some time and can give it space, maybe that would help your perspective- kind of step back and take a fresh look at it.

The other thing I'm thinking is that after too many rewrites, it becomes something you don't recognize. It's good you still like the story. I've heard stories of writers who've had to rewrite so much that the story wasn't even theirs anymore and they didn't like it.

So what to do then? I'm not sure. Either the publishing company accepts it or they don't, and if you won't/can't do whatever they feel is lacking, do you just kiss it goodbye?

Hmm. I'm not much help. But maybe work on something totally different for a bit, if you can, just to keep the love of the craft alive and give you something new to focus on. As for this project, are you facing a deadline for a certain publication date you were hoping for? Can your editor be any more specific in his/her feedback? It's frustrating to not see what everyone else does.

One good bit of writing advice I remember reading was to "Raise the Stakes." If you're floating along and nothing right is happening with the book, raise the stakes for your character. Totally hit that character with something horrid or really hard and make him/her work through it.

Wow, I'm really rambling and this turned into a long post. I'm sorry! But I wish you all the best with this and I can totally feel your pain at rewriting. It's something I always cringe at. (Or should I say, "It's something at which I always cringe.") ;-) Some people love the rewritinging process; I like to brainstorm. :-)

Hugs and good luck! Please keep us posted.

At 11/13/2008 1:30 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

In some respects, all good writers are rewriters.

At the same time, I'm totally feeling your pain. Wish I had some brilliant advice for you.

At 11/13/2008 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gazing at the texture on the ceiling can be an entertaining way to pass time for those rocking small children or for adults who are sick and curled up on the easy chair. The grooves and peaks created by the plaster can produce changing images depending on how long you stare and how the light hits the surface. Sometimes all it takes is to move slightly and look at the same place from a different angle to see a totally different picture.

Julie, stop staring so hard at the problem. Blink a few thousand times to give yourself a little time to clear your eyes, and mind, of the pretzel you’ve created. Really get into that other story you have on the back burner. (We all know you have one.) And then go back and start Tyler’s story over again. You’ll be surprised with how ... easy it will flow from your mind. It may not be exactly the story you started out with when you first sent it in, but you may find you like it better. In the end, it may even feel like that’s the way it was supposed to be in the first place.

Mystery woman

At 11/13/2008 2:46 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

We've all been there at some point :) I agree with Nancy--maybe you need a few more layers or smaller climaxes. Take a couple of days off from the book. Maybe send it to a reader or two with the comments attached. Then come back to it fresh. Rewriters get published!

At 11/13/2008 3:45 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

I like the suggestion of stepping back from the manuscript for a while and working on something else. That will give you a breather from frustration and recharge your batteries. Then, when you pick up the manuscript again after a break and read it start to finish, I'm betting it'll be a lot easier to spot what isn't working.

Obviously the committee thinks your manuscript has great potential, or they wouldn't be asking for rewrites, so hang in there!

At 11/14/2008 4:17 PM, Blogger Janice said...

My son used to stare at the ceiling too. I decided that he was watching angels. Once he got older he would smile and coo at the angels. That sounds better than having your child smile and coo at the ceiling.

I think you should go on a reading spree. Check out books from the library you wouldn't normally read. Then buy a Rubix Cube with the 4X4 rows and follow the directions as to how to fix the darn thing once you've messed it up. Once you've sorted out the cube you will either be a raving lunatic or your mind will be free and you'll be all ready for another rewrite.

It's probably a good idea to find some readers who haven't read it yet so you can get a fresh perspective. I volunteer!

At 11/14/2008 5:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We all rewrite--no matter how
or when.

Terry Finley

At 11/16/2008 4:51 PM, Blogger Karlene said...

Hmmm, I bet you've got too much kissing in it. That's the problem!

ha! ha! Couldn't resist.

I agree with the consensus here--step back for a bit, if you can, and give it a rest. Work on something else for awhile. Then come back to it.


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