I remember when our three kids were young, they always measured their homework by the number of words required by the teacher. If an assignment was supposed to be half a page, they wrote half a page. If it was supposed to be two pages, they wrote two pages. If it was 500 words, they wrote 500 and not a word more. Writing the fewest number of words possible was always their goal, and rewriting? Never.
Many of my beginning writing students have pretty much the same idea. They think, “If I can write 300 words a day, then at the end of six months, I’ll have 55,000 words—a whole book!” What they don’t understand is that you don’t keep every word your write, in fact you keep very few of them. Each draft creates mulch for the next draft, and that draft creates mulch for the next draft. And if you’re lucky, one sentence or phrase or image or one idea from an early draft will make it through to your finished book. Writing is all about rewriting. Most of the pieces in The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother-Daughter Story were rewritten a hundred times.
People who aren’t writers don’t understand that.
It’s true, occasionally, when we are very lucky, the muse comes and sits on our shoulders with a rare gift—something comes out on the page perfect (or almost perfect) and fully formed. But usually it’s slogging through draft after draft after draft.
So, although it was painful to relinquish the “play” and the “book of letters,” I don’t regret writing them. I don’t believe I “wasted time.” I was mulching my material. I was exploring the depths of what I had to say. I was finding and shaping my story. And it took me years to do that.
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