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Finding that Masterpiece Within

by D.L. Koontz

One of my favorite secular movies is Romancing the Stone. Kathleen Turner plays a lonely romance novelist named Joan Wilder.

In the opening scene, she’s hunched over a keyboard crying as she writes a tear-jerking scene (that’s me). She’s so engrossed in her writing, she ignores her irritated cat (also me).

When she finishes, she hurriedly types “The End,” whisks it from the typewriter, and plunks the entire manuscript into a large envelope addressed to her editor.

That. Is. So. NOT. Me.

Does anyone write that well on first draft?

When I’m done with draft one, I heave a sigh of relief that I’m about 50 percent finished.

The next step, the other 50 percent, looks like this: Begin rewrite. Chew my nails. Get discouraged. Pray. Rewrite. Cry from self-doubt. Rewrite. Sigh. Walk away from it. Clean a LOT of my house. Pray more. Consider a new career. Take a walk and ponder why I go through this torture. Return and rewrite. From there, the cycle repeats itself until I achieve 100 percent.

This whole concept of rewriting is a tad hard for me. I began my writing life as a journalist. In that role I covered an event, wrote the lead in my head as I raced back to the newsroom, scrambled into the computer chair and, lickety-split, cranked out who, what, where, why, and when. The deadline was always one minute ago. Rewrites? Hah! Who had time for that?

So, I underwent a mind shift to write fiction. Instead of playing journalist, I see myself emulating a sculptor. He faces a huge chunk of marble and meticulously chips away until he uncovers the masterpiece within. I imagine myself chipping away until I do the same.

The only problem with my visual is that annoying chunk of marble. It doesn’t exist until I create it. And guess what? In the writer’s world, that chunk is called a first draft.

So, we must get our chunk done (first draft – the Kathleen Turner part, above), then chip away (rewrite) until we uncover those masterpieces within.

In his excellent book, Stein on Writing, Sol Stein said that unwillingness to revise usually signals an amateur, and that the majority of published writers he’s known write first drafts riddled with embarrassingly bad writing compared to the version that sees print. He said: “They know that writing is truly rewriting.”

I want to be one of those writers. I want to enjoy the revision process.

Don’t you?

In the sequel to my book, Crossing into the Mystic, released March 21, I zeroed in on the perfect attitude changer for rewrites: time. I wrote the book (untitled for now), put it aside for three months, then came back to it. With time and distance, I could easily identify where its weaknesses were and I was anxious to tackle that rewrite.

Proof yet again that there is a season for everything.

My point? Don’t rush. Your masterpiece may deserve more chipping away time.

Crossing into the MysticD. L. Koontz was born in Pennsylvania, but now resides with her husband on their cattle ranch in coastal Georgia. A former journalist, business consultant, spokesperson, and college instructor, she has been writing since she penned an award-winning poem in fifth grade. Find her at www.dlkoontz.com.

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4 Responses to Finding that Masterpiece Within

  1. Lynellen Perry says:

    A wonderful point! A second draft may not be ready for publication either, nor a third. Keep rewriting and dont give up!

  2. Becky Wade says:

    Great post! My rewriting process looks a lot like yours. Especially the ‘consider new career’ part. :) It takes me a long time to get my books how I want them.

  3. It’s the first draft that gets me…words that come to mind: pulling teeth, pray, pain, pray, despair, pray.

  4. Cynthia says:

    Thank you for you article, D.L. Your suggestions have helped me more than the past ten books I’ve read on writing fiction. I’ve been struggling with a premise for months now. It’s like all the pieces are there, strewn on the floor, waiting for me to connect them. I’m confident that it will all come together when the timing (and season) is right. Thanks, again!