Can you imagine re-writing the ending of your book 47 times…? I mean seriously, shoot me in the head now; normally when I make it to the end I’m so exhausted I’m ready to do just that, simply end… But think of the greats. King, Koontz, Hemingway, Chandler… If we were to read some of their first drafts I bet we would find that the polish isn’t quite there. That the work isn’t quite up to par. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall in their studies. To be able to quietly observe them as they banged their head against the desk in agony over what word to put next. I’m only saying this because I recently have thought about this.
I personally get very insecure about my writing. But I’m discovering something important, so does every other writer. I remember the first time I showed my writing to a published author. I cringed as she read through that short story. I was worried about what words would come out of her mouth. I remember the time and effort I put into that writing, and then the re-writing, and then re-writing it again and again… Then I remember that feeling of relief when she looked up, smiled, and said: “This is really good.”
Now it’s true she could have been lying by all means and afraid to mention it to my face. But I know her and I trust she is honest. But regardless it gave me the confidence I needed to continue on. I discovered this weekend that real writing occurs in the re-writing… It’s true. Dean Koontz writes one page at a time. He will re-write that one page twenty times before he ever moves on to page two. He then continues this process with each page until he gets to the end… Stephen King tossed the first draft of Carrie in the trash because he thought it stunk. His wife later pulled it out, dusted it off, read it, and said “Steve, you’ve got something here.”
Then there is my favorite. I recently discovered while at the ACW writers conference that Hemingway re-wrote the ending to “A Farewell to Arms” about 47 times… Some of those earlier drafts are still available and as you read them you will more than likely discover that some did indeed need to be re-written… When I came home and mentioned this to my wife her comment was simple- Shows you the importance of persistence… I didn’t realize it but that was the lesson I needed to hear.
I recently had some interest in a novel I wrote about a year ago. I hadn’t looked at the project in some time; in fact several months. Okay I’ll be honest; I haven’t looked at it since I finished it over a year ago. But I pulled it out and asked myself what was wrong with the story. As I read through the pages with a fresh set of eyes it became apparent very quick what the issue was. I’m now taking some time to re-write something I had previously given up on. I let my insecurity take control and my lack of confidence deny me the ability to be persistent and finish the project.
I think if I’ve learned anything it is this: Great writers stay at it until they get it right… The questions we need to ask is this: Do we…?
Follow this link for more on Hemingway’s 47 drafts of A Farewell to Arms. Scroll down. Should be the 2nd post.