Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome Michael Dellert, author, editor, friend, who has imparted his nuggets of wisdom at this space before– here , here, and here. Today he talks about how writers can handle their limitations during rewrites:
One of the hardest things about the rewrite process is how it brings one face-to-face with one’s own limitations. It’s humbling. Hell, it’s downright scary.
Lately on my blog, I’ve been exploring and sharing my own novel rewriting process.
The rewrite of my own upcoming novel, The Wedding of Eithne, proved to be particularly difficult.
By the middle of the process, I felt lost, overwhelmed. Like I’d taken on more than I could handle. I stared at scenes for days on end with my head in my hands: “What the hell am I trying to say here?” Imposter syndrome crept over me like an early winter’s night. Self-doubt nibbled at the corners of my confidence. “What made me think I could do this?”
And then I reminded myself: I’m not supposed to fully understand my own story. I’m supposed to be in over my head. I’m nothing but a channel for these characters, their situations, and all the images and ideas that come with them. And if these characters don’t feel like they’re in over their head, if the situations aren’t overwhelming, if the stakes aren’t life-and-death, then I’m not doing my job.
So I embraced my limitations. I grabbed them and held them tight, and I thanked my lucky stars for them. Without them, I’d have no idea what my characters were feeling. No idea if the situation was overwhelming.
If my story wasn’t daunting enough to give me pause, then it wasn’t daunting enough.
But how did I get past those limitations? How did I turn them around and put them to work?
Through inquiry. I asked questions of the characters, of their situations, of the images and ideas that surrounded them. Where do these feelings of insecurity and uncertainty and fear live in my story? From those questions, a coherent narrative emerged. I didn’t create it. It created itself.
How? It’s a mystery. It’s an act of faith. But not blind faith. Not faith in creative writing classes, and books on narrative and structure, and beta-readers and online writing gurus (Hi!). It’s faith in oneself. In the story one carries inside oneself. By embracing the mystery that guided me to write this story, and trusting it, I connected to the living story within myself, the story that wanted to be told.
I acknowledged my limitations and focused on the more technical aspects of the rewrite—tightening prose, clarifying sentences, banishing clichés and redundancies—and the story became clear to me in a deeper, more meaningful way.
So how did I do this? I made a list of my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. I didn’t judge them. I just noticed them.
- I write good dialogue.
- I write great action scenes.
- I omit body language cues.
- I neglect setting.
By acknowledging my limitations, I found a deeper understanding of my story. I focused on those weaknesses, and worked to overcome them. But I played to my strengths too. If that dialogue lacked action and body language cues, could I think of it like an action scene, a verbal sparring match? Could I introduce more setting without slowing the pace? By inquiring into the nature of my limitations and how to overcome them, I came to a deeper understanding of my story.
And as Albert Einstein once said, “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.”
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in literary journals such as The Backporch Review, The Harbinger, Idiom, and Venture. His poetry has also appeared in the anthologies The Golden Treasury of Great Poems and Dance on the Horizon, and he is a two-time winner of the Golden Poet Award from World of Poetry Press. He is the author of the Heroic Fantasy adventures Hedge King in Winter, A Merchant’s Tale, and The Romance of Eowain. His fourth book, The Wedding of Eithne, was published in April 2017. He currently lives and works in the Greater New York City area as a freelance writer, editor, and publishing consultant.
If you’re a writer, do you remember your limitations while doing a rewrite? How do you cope with your insecurities? Are you a reader, a writer, or both? Do you read more short stories or novels? As a reader or writer, do you have questions for Michael Dellert? Michael will be giving away kindle copies of Romance of Eowain and Wedding of Eithne to two commenters.
This post was written for the IWSG. Thanks to Alex J. Cavanaugh for organizing and hosting the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) every month! Go to the site to see the other participants. In this group we writers share tips, self-doubt, insecurities, and of course, discuss the act of writing. If you’re a writer and a blogger, go join rightaway!
I host the monthly We Are the World Blogfest: I’d like to invite you to join, if you haven’t as yet, to post the last Friday of each month a snippet of positive news that shows our essential, beautiful humanity.
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