Of Writers, Time Warps and The Twilight Zone

Anyone who says that the concept of a time warp is fantasy has apparently never sat before a keyboard and monitor reviewing – and revising – their stories.

I can’t write five words but that I change seven. – Dorothy Parker

I’m not a first draft person. Heck, I’m not even a second or third draft person! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve read a piece I’ve written and walked away with a feeling of satisfaction, only to later revisit that same piece of writing and discover (as T.S. Eliot said) ‘that’s not what I meant at all, that is not it at all.’

How does that happen? I am always so sure I’ve nailed it in the first (second? third?) draft. What became of all of my brilliant, funny, charmingly expressed thoughts? Surely the tripe I now see on the page wasn’t written by me.

Was it?

Like someone who has wandered into the Twilight Zone, I find myself caught in some sort of literary time warp, forced to endure multiple rewrites of the same story… over and over and over…

TZ

As I pause to reflect on the problem of rewrites, I swear I can almost hear the classic, jarring bongo/guitar theme from the old Twilight Zone show. And, if I look up from the monitor, I suddenly spot him: Rod Serling, standing in the corner of my writing room, carefully groomed, a cigarette held in one hand, and a darkly amused look on his face. He never looks my way, instead choosing to speak to an audience that only he can see.

RS

Serling: Submitted for your consideration, one Miss Kate Loveton, would-be author by night, beleaguered legal assistant by day. She spends her evenings sitting in front of a keyboard, typing words – a great many words. Words she will later discover to be inadequate. Words she will delete. Words she will replace with yet more words. Night after night, Miss Loveton deals in words, words that fail to convey the images she sees in her head. Night after night, she returns to the same keyboard, sits in the same position, and rewrites the same story.

Cut to scene of Kate, pulling hunks of hair from her head, imprisoned by the words she must revise… and revise… and revise… night after night after night…

woman_pulling_out_hair

Serling: Miss Loveton is caught in a time warp of her own making.

What Miss Loveton is unaware of, however, is that when she steps away from the keyboard, small visitors – gremlins, if you will – invade her writing room. During her absence, these creatures work quickly and efficiently to alter the words on her pages.  Their devious mission: to insert dangling participles, change colons to semi-colons, add as many pesky adverbs as possible, and transpose sentences and alter meanings.

One day, perhaps, Miss Loveton will return to her writing room before they’ve finished the job – and she will catch them in the act of sinister substitution. But until then, Kate Loveton will be forced to revisit time and again this very room, this very story, unable to break the time warp she finds herself in. You see, Miss Loveton thought she was writing a book. What she needs, however, is a guide book because Miss Loveton has taken an unanticipated detour… and found herself in a little piece of hell known as… The Revisionist Zone.

I joke. But not really.

I do sometimes feel I’m stuck in a time warp, revising and revising. Sometimes I view my life as a particularly bad episode of The Twilight Zone – the one in which a struggling writer tries to communicate what is in her mind, often without success.

Half my life is an act of revision. – John Irving

It heartens me when I discover that I’m not the only person forced to put up with that inner critic who demands multiple rewrites. Writing isn’t an easy process, not for me anyway. Each word, each sentence is forcefully yanked from my foggy brain and onto a piece of paper. And often – too often – I’m unhappy when I go back to look at what I so painstakingly came up with the night before. It’s nothing for me to revise a story multiple times. It’s also not a sure bet that I’ll be totally satisfied with the finished product.

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it. – Michael Crichton

Perhaps a lot of writers feel they are stuck in a time warp, constantly revising their work. How about you? Are you a writer or a rewriter? For those of you who are first draft writers – or even second – I salute you!

Time Clocks

Could you let me in on your secret? How do you do it? C’mon, be a pal! Help me escape The Revisionist Zone – after all, there’s something very creepy about a dead guy showing up in the corner of your room, smoking cigarettes, and talking to people you can’t see.

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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18 Responses to Of Writers, Time Warps and The Twilight Zone

  1. marjma2014 says:

    I feel your pain, and mine too! This is so hard, crafting a novel seems like a never ending journey, but we writers just have to keep going and hope that there will be a reward at the end.

  2. OMG Funny and so true!

  3. Kate Loveton says:

    Thanks, Noelle, for the suggestion! I shall certainly give that a try. Glad you found the post comforting. 🙂

  4. This blog couldn’t have come at a better time for me! I am on the fourth rewrite of a book, about to go out to beta readers, which of course will generate a fifth or sixth. I loathe rewriting! The fun and the creativity is in the first write. But I view it as a necessary evil. My suggestion is to read your very first draft and then read the latest. It should tell you how far you’ve come, give you some confidence that the gremlins are helping you craft a better product. As for Rod Serling, his works were the nightmares of my youth, but the fact he is visiting means he might think you’ve got something there! Your blog was comforting!

  5. LOL Pix go well with the description. I’m sure I made the Race contributors feel just like this, that they were caught in a maddening warp with the Wayfarer (aka Grammar Mafia).
    Very enjoyable post.

  6. Harliqueen says:

    What a great post, made me chuckle, though feel about being amused over your struggles, you shouldn’t write so funny 😀

    I know what you mean though, it’s hard to just stop sometimes. I end up going over my draft so many times I feel like I could repeat the whole thing from memory!

  7. It is always a delight to see notification of a new blog post by you dropping into my inbox of a morning. You continue to come up with humorous and compelling posts that I only wish that I could aspire to. I envy your class and wit, my dear!

    I think you’ve nailed the answer to the age-old question that every writer asks themselves: How the hell did all those adverbs get in there?!

    Now we know the answer – those damn gremlins that sneak in when we’re unawares, sprinkling their evil little superfluous words while we’re not looking.

    I say that we all band together and drive them out with pitchforks, what do you think? 🙂

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Heather, thank you. You’re no slouch in the compelling posts department!

      I’m all for getting up a group of merry warriors to take on the evil gremlins. I’ve tried staying up into the wee hours of the morning, hoping to catch them at their evil work. Alas, they’re too tricky for me; they manage to do their dirty deeds and get away before I can catch them!

      • I definitely think we should band together and have an around the clock guard against the little gremlins. I’ll bring my trusty net, a flask of coffee and some cookies! 😎

  8. SarahClare says:

    I don’t think you can ever be truly ‘done’ with a piece of writing. Even when I’ve looked it over, reviewed it, revised it, rewritten parts.. and it’s in its 5th draft.. still, I find something to fiddle with.

    Even after I’ve let it out into the world (tentatively, to friends and trusted beta readers) and they have nothing but glowing excitement and love for what I’ve written.. I’m like ‘but what about that paragraph on page 12? I think it needs to be longer/shorter/different/deleted.’

    I know that many poets, at least, are never finished with a piece. Plath, Heaney- I know they continued to edit a poem even after it went to print!

    It’s just what we do. Striving for that perfect thing we see in our heads that never quite makes it to the page in the same way. It’s about knowing when to leave it the hell alone, and let it be.

    🙂

    • Kate Loveton says:

      SarahClare, I think you’re correct: it is what we do. It’s comforting to know that others also continue to edit. The perfect image is always elusive.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  9. SarahFindlay says:

    This is a great post Kate and you’re definitely not alone. I find I usually have to walk away from something after a while. It’s hard when you know it’s not perfect but you can get caught in a time warp too easily. I like to think that I’m learning something each time and that my writing is getting better. I’m also not a fan of the first draft, I find it really difficult and much prefer the second because then I have something to work with. It’s satisfying shaping a piece of writing into how you want it or near enough 🙂

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thank you, Sarah. Nice to meet a ‘fellow sufferer.’ 🙂 I generally have to walk away from things for at least several hours, sometimes several days. It helps to read a piece with fresh eyes. I think you pick up more errors and lapses in thought and connection when you do so. Some people dislike the editing process; I confess I do enjoy it. It’s rather like being a sculptor, continuing to chip away, until you realize – at long last – the image you wish to convey.

  10. Revision, rewrite, repeat until you achieve something resembling what you want… I feel your pain. I always enjoy a first drat but it’s the follow on from there that kills me. To keep me going though I fit in a short story here and there to keep the creative juices flowing

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Dave, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Good advice about fitting in a short story here and there. Takes your mind off the piece that is resting inside your desk drawer, giving you fresh eyes when you next look at it. Stephen King says he sometimes lets his books ‘rest’ for several months before taking them out to again read and edit. He wrote a lot of other things in between, obviously, considering the volume of work he’s produced.

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