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.
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…
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.
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…
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!
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.