Last night I began tackling a chapter that has been a problem for a long time. I first wrote a version of it over a year ago, and another version was workshopped in January. It got mixed reviews in class, and my professor/thesis advisor, who is normally mild in his criticism (sometimes too mild!) was surprisingly dismissive of this chunk of text. I have struggled to rewrite the piece over and over, but it remains a collection of mismatched sections and I am always trying to force a common theme on them by adding a few sentences here and there. I have reordered the sections, dropped sections, added sections and reworded sections. And still, this chapter is not successful.
This morning, in a last-minute attempt to fix it before my thesis is due, I started reworking it again. I began by thinking that the third section of the chapter should be the first, but then paused. Hadn’t that section once been at the beginning?
I opened my handy file of previous drafts and found one from last October — frankly, I didn’t remember that this chapter even existed way back then — that included many of the same sections that are still in the chapter…with one noticeable difference: They were better! More emotion, more tension, a whole entire subplot that has since disappeared but which adds, I now think, a lot of depth to the chapter.
Which makes me wonder….can editing and rewriting harm more than they help? As I read over three previous versions of this chapter, I see that I edited out all feeling, streamlined the action to the point of blandness, and cut out some telling interactions. Why? And since I am now going to weave many of those previous cuts back into the chapter as I restructure it, what was the point?
I suppose that one could argue that it took all of those rewrites (Five? At least five that I saved) to help me see what the chapter needs. But man, think of all the time and anguish I might have saved if I had just gone with the first version! Argh.