What REALLY happens when I rewrite!

brown wooden desk

It’s been a year since I wrote about my book-length memoir’s rewrite process.

And there’s a good reason why: I’ve not (gulp!) been doing much of it!

Notice though I said “not…much…” Meaning I have done some. So, not a complete lost cause. Then again, once you read on here to see what exactly I do each time I “rewrite”, you might disagree!

Okay (deep breath), here we go!!

1. Writing Space

beige and black chair in front of white desk
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When I come to my scheduled rewrite sessions, I usually take time to do what I deem to be a “proper setup”.

For ten to fifteen minutes, I would move around my house to prepare my “writing space”. That would usually be the study room I share with my wife and kids, or the dining area. When she’s working from home (who isn’t these days right?), my wife would most likely be in the study room, meaning I’ll have to use the dining area.

Once or twice when my kids are also in with home-based learning, I’ve even set up space in the living room or my bedroom!

The key to my venue choice is that I should be the only human in that space, thus ensuring no unwarranted disruption.

Another important criteria in this writing space is a large flat surface (preferably a sturdy table top) as I usually need a lot of space to “sprawl my writing props.”

2. Writing Props

person writing on notebook
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Next comes the props for my rewrite.

Having completed my vomit draft last year and printed out all 300+ pages, I’ve had to put all of them into a box for easy retrieval. Along the way, I’ve reprinted certain sections I’ve done some editing spade work, so the box has filled out quite a bit!

Of course, I’ll need my trusty set of stationeries within easy reach. These include pencils, various coloured-pens and highlighters, a long ruler, and lots of foolscap or blank paper. Some post-its close by too, in case I need to tag some pages.

And most importantly, my laptop and notebook. The former contains all my drafts and rewrites carefully saved and catalogued into meaningful folders for easy management; the latter my “roadmap of ideas” as well as plans for what to do before and after rewrite sessions. You know, to ensure I’ve completed preset tasks and am headed somewhere!

I’m what I call a “scribbler”, so I will also have a lot of loose sheets of papers on the table for my doodling. On them I map out my book’s themes, structure, things to include or eliminate, etc. I try to file them neatly but I still find myself penning down random thoughts that may or may not be related, so after a while the table can look like a draughtsman’s work station!

Getting all that ready can easily take me another twenty minutes or more.

Once I’ve settled all that, including ensuring I have drinking water within reach (who knew editing was such a thirst-inducing endeavour?!), I’m ready to “muse”!

3. The safe “cul-de-sac” of my musing

thoughtful ethnic businessman using laptop while working in office
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“Musing” for me first begins with re-reading my memoir’s pages.

In the past year, that’s what I’ve been doing, but mainly with the chapters of the first Act of my book (I adopted the popular Three-Act structure of writing to help me scaffold this project).

My first Act’s all about setting the scene for the readers, giving them context and a hook to hopefully get them to keep reading all the way to the end. Re-reading and re-reviewing my book’s aims, themes, purposes tend to dominate this portion of my rewriting process.

Unfortunately, I’ve just been moving back and forth over those chapters in Act 1 this past year, completely neglecting chapters in the other two Acts!

You see, the second Act of a memoir is “drudgery” for me, though in fact it’s supposed to be as equally important as Act 1, if not more. Drudgery, because it’s all about character development and the obstacles I face on the path to my transcendence; my “Eureka” moments.

This means nothing short of pulling scenes from my past to support my book’s themes and arguments. For now, this part isn’t the most exciting for me as a writer. After all, who likes to rewrite and dig up more dirt from one’s own past, right? Unfortunately, this part is very critical for the reader to fully grasp the arc of my story. To hopefully see the relevance and universality of the book’s objective.

And, hopefully, root for me to triumph over my challenges by the end of the book.

Unfortunately, each time I get around to Act 2, I will automatically “U-turn” back to the safe cul-de-sac of Act 1!

And each time I realise what I had done, I end up…

4. Pacing back and forth!

unrecognizable man walking along white building wall
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Usually I would do several things when I get into a funk like this.

For a start, I would replay my coach’s voice recording of her online book writing course. Just hearing her warm, reassuring voice walking me through my writing journey, makes me feel hopeful, even accomplished.

Then, I would pace around my house, either to visit the kitchen for drinks and snacks (preferably Tillamook’s Choc Chip Cookie Dough ice cream! Yums!!), or the restroom (who knew writing would lead to so much drinking, which then leads to…?!).

Occasionally I would “tickle the ivories” on my keyboard, though my limited skills means that after a few basic chords, I’ll revert to pacing back and forth!

Yet another thing I try to do is read out loud what I had written and listen for any quirks or idiosyncrasies in the logic, grammar or syntax that needs tweaking. Sadly, the tweaking bit can be a challenge. Like most new writers, I’m reluctant to “murder my darlings” as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch once called the vicious spade work one must ruthlessly employ to all editing endeavours.

For to pull whole chunks of text out can be akin to ripping flesh off one’s thighs! Arrgghhh…!!

So what I do instead is move some paragraphs about, like moving furniture. Then pat myself on the back with a feeling of achievement — that I had both avoided killing off my sweetheart sentences and found them new, better homes!

Of course those feelings fade fast when I come to the end of the rewrite session.

That’s when I take stock and realise that, in actual fact, I had really accomplished precious little in the time I spent!

Oh well…there’s always the next rewrite.



2 thoughts on “What REALLY happens when I rewrite!

  1. Lol I freaking hate the rewriting phase. Because I can’t judge if I’m making things better or if I’m changing things for the hell of it. And then some changes require you to change the entire structure of the book too, so it can be pretty intimidating. In the end, we need to take editing just as we do writing—one step at a time. Keep on keeping on, Kelvin!

    1. Thanks so much for the encouragement! It’s also nice to know I’m not alone, which is what a writer’s life often feels like. Yes let’s all keep on keeping on knowing that we’re not alone!! Appreciate as always for stopping by. Thanks Stu!

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