Guest blogger Linda Greene on the art of rewriting.
Returned to its source, the pulp from the rejected pages of my rewrites over the course of my writing career would constitute a woodland the rival of Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest. It wasn’t until I discovered that the master wordsmith himself, F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered the art of fiction to be the art of rewriting, that I stopped viewing it as a blot on my abilities and grew keen on the practice.
Actually, it is one of the tasks of writing that I enjoy the most, not only because of its value to the finished product, but also because I’ve discovered almost none of it goes to waste. Just as there was said to be “gold in them thar hills,” there is gold in those abandoned pages.
Developed through layers of evolution, sometimes my completed writing projects barely resemble the early drafts — but, oh, those early drafts have been priceless when adapted for other projects. My latest novel, Guardians and Other Angels, is an example of this fusion of independent pieces of writing, some of which I had thrown on the heap of the unfinished or uninspired that I considered of little or no further use to me; when pitched to the tuning fork of the new piece, they sang the praises of my story. My obsessive compulsive nature that makes me hoard every scrap I pen often pays off in the end.
My penchant toward collecting pages of personal writings is apparently inherited, for included in Guardians and Other Angels are my transcriptions of authentic private letters written by ancestors during the Great Depression and World War II. It is a preserved anthology remarkable in its recording of their thoughts and feelings, and of their day-to-day experiences, as well as in its powerful chronicling of the incomparable history of those times. Like my set-asides, those hundreds upon hundreds of pages written by my ancestors were thrown in an old chest and thought worthless; in fact, when once again shown the light of day, their share of my novel is golden.
Based on this one example alone, my advice is to rewrite until your work reflects the best of your capabilities, and value all of your written words. First, save them for your own future work; second, like me, one of your descendants might need your discards for the novel or biography he or she will eventually write about you.