Arsenic, divinity and the rewrite

Posted: June 12, 2011 in process
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I was reading a book called The Fires of Alchemy – as one does when faced with a redrafting of one’s precious work. And I came across this recipe:

Mix the divine, 3 pounds of it, with the arsenic, 2 pounds of it; and look out that the Astrological Constellation is right. Then, if you pray to God and have purified your house you may be patient, for the great union will occur.

Hmm. Not sure about the astrology, but the metaphor immediately spoke to me: this is about my rewrite.

In any writing, I reckon there’s arsenic – the oomph, the thrust, the crackle of the plot – and something divine – the energy, flow and magic of the storytelling. (I dare you to say I’m wrong! Don’t you want to think of your masterpiece as an alchemic mix of arsenic and divinity?)

Okay. To the point.

I’m redrafting my 7s-9s story. I hate redrafting for one reason alone: you have tidied up the work in order for it to be your best, in order for it to be okay to submit. And then, bother, you have to start altering a strand of plot, a character’s key action, or perhaps a premise that was sound until someone said it wasn’t.

So here I am, undoing something really well written and putting these little matters right (which I’m actually quite pleased and hopeful about) but – and it’s a huge “but” – it’s ruining the splendid rhythm of the writing, the well-placed cliffhangers and the sense that it was a satisfying read. Which was an illusion, obviously, if these things weren’t right.

In other words, the arsenic is now deadly but the divine is slightly missing. I’m sure it should return when I re-edit for style after completing the alterations, but in the meantime I’m struggling to think of myself as a half-decent writer. It irks to lose rhythm and balance.

Perhaps I’ll take myself off to wait patiently for the “great union” to occur that the alchemy book promises. Oh, and purify my house. After which, my reborn story will be gold – won’t it?


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