I am always surprised how words and sentences evolve over time when you are writing a book. By time of course, I mean editing, rephrasing, altering, exchanging words, crossing out, re-reading everything and then assessing if the new version is an improvement on the previous one or not. Sometimes, the new version doesn’t make any sense anymore and you end up being insecure about what it was you were trying to say in the first place. How much more time are you willing to spend repeatedly going over your prose, changing and correcting it until you are satisfied that it conveys the message you always intended it to? Will you ever be satisfied with it? Investing time to improve your work requires commitment and stubborn perseverance especially as time is always limited and there’s some other project vying for your attention.
So rewriting is like a juggling act but sometimes the hard work pays off. This is an early version of a foreword for a book I wrote last year called “A Drive In A Car” :
“My father died in 2006, aged 78 years old. Despite the huge shock, I remember thinking that I had no right to complain since there were so many people out there in the world who never knew their father. I was able to appreciate, especially in retrospect, that my dad died a “good death” ; the heart attack that killed him within 10 minutes actually spared him of the likely prospect of years of mental and physical degeneration and all the pain that might entail. Besides, my father, by all accounts, had lived a full and happy life. Even if I got to play God for the day and could preside over his mortal fate, what life sentence would I be passing on to him if I let him continue to live? Whatever the hidden blessings, his death was still a nagging reminder of my mortality. Yes, someone seemed to whisper in my ear as they pinched the skin on my naked arm, you will die one day and your children will grieve for you just as your grandchildren will grieve for them. Here’s a hard slap in the face just in case you were ever tempted to forget. There is no comfort to be found in death, only a path littered with unanswered questions. There were so many things I wish I had told him and so many apologies I wish I had made. Most of all, I never got to say goodbye or tell him how much I still miss him.”
It’s not a disaster. It certainly means well but it also seems overblown and over sentimental. It’s obvious that perhaps I am trying too hard to articulate my feelings and failing miserably. The paragraph clearly needs editing to make more sense. Time for a rewrite! Eventually, after 57 rewrites, after constantly crossing out and reinserting words and sentences, I ended up with :
“My father died in 2006, 78 years old. Despite the huge shock, I remember feeling that I had no right to complain when there were so many other people out there who never knew their father at all. Did I also perhaps not appreciate that the heart attack that killed him within 10 minutes actually spared him from years of mental and physical degeneration? Even if I had been allowed to play God and preside over his mortal fate, what life sentence would I be passing on to him if I let him continue to live? And yet, despite these hidden blessings, I found no comfort in his death, only nagging reminders of my mortality. The footpath of my life would forever remain littered with unanswered questions and deep regret because I never got to say goodbye or tell him how much I loved him.”
Yes, much better. A lot of work (at least six hours) but it was worth it. Mission accomplished. Now for the other 1000 paragraphs in the book!
This example also illustrates why most writers need editors. The way the writer feels about each rewrite will always change but at least he or she will always have the choice of going through that process on their own or allowing someone in to help them take it all the way. Working with an editor is not easy for some, especially as it often involves sharing such personal and hard work and letting them pick it apart but, once you see the difference between your first draft and your final draft, you will realize the value of having that third party input.