The Theme’s the Thing

Back in high school and even junior high and probably elementary school, we used to have to write “themes.”  Remember those?  I used to hate those damn things.  Many times they only had to be a page or so, though sometimes more, but I hated to have to do the research that was necessary to put them together.  I couldn’t have been less interested.  And once the rough draft was done, the next step–ostensibly–was to read through them again and fix anything that seemed wrong.

Read them again?  Are you out of your friggin’ mind?  Holy horse manure, Herman you gotta be kidding.  Once I wrote the damn thing, I figured I was finished with it.  Done.  Finalized.  Terminated.  After all, that’s all there is to writing isn’t there?  Just put the words on paper (no computers back then–after all, Joan of Arc was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs) and be done with it.  As far as I was concerned, proofreading hadn’t been invented and I wasn’t about to take that step.

But the situation has changed in the intervening years.  How many years I won’t say, and it isn’t important, but my feelings about writing have taken a radically different turn.  Now, after I put words on the screen and save them to the hard drive, I can’t wait to go over them again.  And again and again.  I proofread almost interminably.  I actually want to go back and read again.  I want to make it better, to make it as good as I can.  Perhaps it’s due to writing all those scientific papers during my career as a scientist that instilled in me the need to re-write.  Those papers had to be perfect before they were sent off to the journal for publication.  Now I want the sentences to be just right, to have just the right words at just the right places.  I want the metaphors and similes to be perfect and project the right image.  I want the paragraphs to be complete within themselves, and to have each chapter to end properly and leave the reader wanting more.  Don’t you like to read a chapter that pushes you into the next one so you can’t put the book down, and, in the meantime, the dinner that’s bubbling on the stove is allowed to burn because you didn’t watch it?  What a book.  Even this blog won’t get by without several read-throughs and corrections and re-adjustments and a spell check.

I like what I’ve written, usually.  I enjoy reading and re-reading what I’ve written, and making changes when necessary.  However, that brings up another problem where all the re-reading and editing can become destructive in the long run.  There’s always something that needs attention but there comes a point where you have to give up and just stop.  The hardest part of writing for me is not putting the words down in the first place, as challenging as that may be, but forcing myself to stop the incessant re-reading and changing and fiddling and tinkering that I could do if I wanted.  I could go over my novels ad infinitum, but I’ve found that the best medicine to counter obsessive re-reading and re-editing is to write something new.  To write a new short story or novella or novel or, in a few cases, a poem.  A new rough draft is welcome where the need for correcting and editing and messing around is really necessary.  In short, keep those rough drafts going.

Okay, now it’s time for the spell check.

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