R is for Rewrite

Yes, that’s right. Rewrite. What else is there to say? One must write, when one must, because – as we’ve clearly seen from this blog – there’s no other way for most of us and we’re just stuck with it I suppose. No, that’s ungrateful. I’m sure to live a “normal” life without stories constantly running through one’s head would be a dull and graceless experience. But yes, it has its problems too.

One of those problems is that, after the fleeting moment of magic has flit – that oh so rare and precious time when the words are flowing onto the page and one feels that one is flying – when that is past, as it usually is, then what is left is to cut, cut, cut, edit, edit, edit, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
We’ve all heard it: “A real writer doesn’t write, he (or she) rewrites.” (Well obviously they must write something first, one assumes, in order to have the raw material needed in order to then rewrite it.) But you know what I mean.

Sometimes rewriting takes so long that one wonders if it is ever going to end. If the story, finally, one day, will find its rightful resting place, whether you the author, will find the right ending, the one where you go: “Aha! I’ve got it!” and it just rings true. Everyone nods their heads and instinctively knows, yes, that’s the one. The right one.

In fact, as one of my fellow Aphraites has pointed out before me, very often the trick is to know when, indeed, to just “leave it”. When to stop, when to stop the tinkering. When to leave the rewriting and just say, “OK, it’s done now.” Because it never really is finished, is it? Apparently Picasso (or was it Pollock?) once said that a painting is never really finished - “it just stops in interesting places”. Surely true, but I tell myself that, in that case, some of my stories must have seen the seven wonders of the world and taken some damn fine photographs.

I actually feel embarrassed at times to find myself rewriting bits of material – stories, usually – that I originally wrote years ago and that have not been accepted into the writing competitions or magazines I sent them. (“Still that old piece? Oh God, not again, please...”) And yet something still tells me there is something to it, something worth saving, a kernel in there, at least. And so I open up the file once more, on what? Its 30th version perhaps, by now, and rewrite it again, according to a new competition’s guidelines, to see if this time it will hit the right note.
Perhaps I am wrong to do this. Perhaps I should just learn to leave it and let bygones be bygones. And yet.... there is still that itch, deep down inside of me, irresistible as the voice of temptation, hissing into my ear, “Go on - just one more time! Remember perseverance is all... this time might be the one.” It is a long process, the validity of which I frequently – and increasingly – question.

Yet it was recently confirmed to me by another, more experienced (screenplay) writer friend, who is also a film director. He made me feel much better – more than he could possibly know or imagine – by assuring me that everything I am doing is worth it, because it is all contributing somehow to the diaphanous process that is (apparently) happening in my head. The process of making the stroy, of finding the thread. He said to absolutely keep everything you have ever written, even the real shit stuff, and to always go back to pieces you wrote years ago, because they are like a kind of puzzle, he said, and in the meantime you never know - you may have found those pieces you were missing.

Sara Roberts


  1. I love the idea of our writing being like a jigsaw, taking time and attention to fit the words together in the right way. Gives another view to those blocks and fog.


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