The word appeared in the margins of many an early draft, sometimes underlined, sometimes followed by a question mark. Sally, the woman who ran the weekly writer’s work shop I attended every Wednesday in high school, used “rethink” as shorthand for “I don’t get it–and as your reader, if I don’t get what you’re saying, you need to think of a better way to say it.”
The first few times I found “rethink” scribbled in red or blue ink on the pages of first drafts, I’ll admit I was a little take aback. (What did she mean, that line wasn’t brilliant?!) But taking the time to go over those passages that made perfect sense in my own head helped me understand that writing was about more than writing down what was in my head. Writing requires that you convey the image, the plot, the dialogue so well that it appears in someone else’s head. It’s incredibly difficult to do that in a first draft.
That’s the amazing part about having your witing critiqued by someone. You need someone to tell you when your brillant words aren’t actually as brilliant as you think. You need someone to question the parts of the story about which you’re most certain.
Outside of a few scattered fiction classes in college, I haven’t had much in the way of serious, consistent critique since that weekly workshop in high school. But I have kept writing. My novel in progress has gone through three separate drafts. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Still, it’s far from finished. In fact, I’ve barely looked at it over the past few months because I’ve known I need to “rethink” quite a bit of it. Finding the problem in your own writing can be exhausting.
After what feels like ages of frustrated writing, I finally realized the problem. I had written the whole novel assuming the story was about the character telling the story, but with a little rethinking, I proved myself wrong. I had made a mistake, thinking this one character was the hero of the story.
And quite frankly, so did the rest of my characters.
With every character just as surprised as I am, the story feels much less scripted and more organic. By rethinking something as fundamental as who is the story is about, my writing has finally come unstuck. I can finally look at the draft of this manuscript with some confidence again.
The next hardest thing will be getting the idea out of my head and onto paper. And most likely, I’ll need someone other than myself to tell me when to “rethink” another passage.