There is a saying that "there is no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting". I've been doing a lot of rewriting lately, though I'm not quite sure that much of it is really good yet. Although I write much more than the average person, I've never really sat down and tried to write something in book form until this year. Blogging is more of an exercise in stream of consciousness, and other things I had worked on were short enough that rewriting them over and over again never felt like too big of an undertaking. Rewriting hundreds of pages at a time and keeping them at a certain flow, pace, and rhythm all while keeping the entire thing coherent is an undertaking that I wasn't prepared for, or at least I did not expect the sheer level of difficulty that it would pose. I have a new found respect for people that can really sit down and not just tackle the oft mentioned blank page but really take on the one that's already full of that not-good-enough draft that sits before them.
Back in April/May I pounded out a rough draft of the book I'm trying to put together, and I was quite happy with myself that I managed to get all the way through and actually write it. I was thinking to myself at the time that this whole writing thing isn't really all that hard. Once i was done with the first draft I thought it would be easy to just shore up some of those thoughts, reorganize the book a little better and presto, I should be done. It's now the middle of November and I'm forcing myself to fight through draft number three. It has been an excruciatingly slow process, and after sitting down just about every day for the last month, I've managed to get through only about a sixth of the the book. I've spent entire weeks working on seven stupid pages, and still not liked what came out. When I was tearing through my first draft I usually put out at least seven pages every day. The big difference is that I seem to spend far too much time re-reading and not as much time as I'd like re-writing.
Sure that blank page can be intimidating and tough, but filling it up is really just a matter of sitting down and not letting yourself get away from the keyboard for at least three to five hours. Making that rambling mush into something that people might want to read on the other hand takes more than just showing up, it takes skill and some days you just can't seem to put anything down that seems worth keeping. Today for instance I spent the whole time revising a really tough chapter that discusses a complex topic that I need to squeeze into this one section. The trick is making it in depth enough that the idea is conveyed properly, but brief enough that it doesn't hit too many tangents and steal the focus of what I'm trying to discuss. After three days straight of working of this chapter I looked over what I had and decided it was no better than draft number two. So with a big sigh I opened another word document and tried to make something new pulling from what are now essentially three other drafts.
Now to be honest I've never done anything like this before, but I'm assuming that if you keep banging your head up against it you eventually get something that resembles what you're trying to put together. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that nobody really thinks this stuff is hard work, but in all honesty this might be the hardest thing I've tried to do. Just getting my ass in the chair to sit down and write and treating it like work is hard enough, but when faced with difficult subject matter that won't conform to what you have in your head it's borderline exasperating. So while there may not be any such thing as good writing, I feel obligated to point out that it's quite difficult to produce even good rewriting.