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Jill Robinson Headshot

Rewriting

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"Just write three pages. Every week..." Writers, who find that difficult, if not horrifying, are often the most talented, garrotted by dreams we fear will never come true. We've sat here, tapping out words for ages, like months, written up this whole story, covered all those pages.

Yes! The End.

But this is when the work begins. It took me over twenty years of commercial writing to catch that rewriting is when it gets real, and interesting.

The first draft is climbing the mountain. Then you see the view -- you see territory you never knew was there.

You cut away extra lines, branches blocking the view; extra words tumbling through the story's progress. Imagination's scalpel clears new routes. What used to be Santa Monica Boulevard at 4 p.m. becomes swift as the Coast Highway at dawn.

I'm talking to myself now. I've been working on Blue Coyote, a kids book, my ego arrogance in place-starched firm as maids' caps in Downton Abbey. It's been 15 years now. I've been drawing, painting, rewriting, sending it out, over and over. Agents, editors insisted there are rules for children's books: is it a book with pictures? Or a picture book? Quite a different matter. And then who are you writing it for? Who cares? I thought. A kid will love it. It's about Hollywood. And a Grandpa the kid loves. Grandpa disappears, she finds him. But today writing a kid's book, like some recipes for cookies was beginning to sound like math class.

One agent said anthromorphizing animals (no animal I know can say that word) is out. Kids don't go for that any more. Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse are at the Motion Picture Home, but the Lion King and his kid are still playing. So is Hello Kitty and gangs of others I'm not up to Googling right now. More important, when I showed my granddaughters the drawings for ZB, the Blue Coyote who lives in the village behind the Hollywood sign, my seven-year-old granddaughter said, "You're the only one who can turn animals into people and people into animals." She smiled. She liked the idea; turned on a show about animated Teeth who are characters. Not very cute and furry, but confirming kids have imagination.
So last week I showed Blue Coyote to a new friend. "I want to get this idea to 'someone,'" she said. L.A.'s magic wand is "get this to someone." You don't know who this "someone" is, but visions dance in your head.

I'm not clear why I took this seriously. It hit me: one of those Now or Never moments: I rewrote all night: I learned several things: I reached in and found a new perspective on my own work.

I learned what was perfect in London fifteen years ago will not play in L.A. today. For one-thing kids may not know what a village is. No. I will not make it into a mall. But the market in the 'W' will have mall stuff. And the teashop will be a smoothie/coffee place.

I learned time away from a project is a gift. By being with small kids here, I saw where I'd gone wrong.

My references to life in London were for my own memory; and gifts to the young writers I left behind in London.

Post Possum was archaic. Who even gets mail? Children text, rather better then we do; smaller; faster fingers. They would wonder what the red telephone booth was for: was that a port-a-potty? Call the lion Oscar; not Gable. Every kid knows Oscar is a big deal in Hollywood. He will be fire chief. A slim lion who might save your life.

Kids do not sit quietly now in the trunk of the great olive tree, the way I used to after school, reading long storybooks. To catch their attention fast: ask a question; stay one step ahead; To move fast enough is not easy. Kids like suspense, and action. Of course. Their days are scheduled, programmed and organized.

But how could I find that catch you get when you're writing something new -- the feel of the first kicks; when it wakes you at odd hours.

This would be a duel between me and every word, every image I'd loved. The phrase one of the iconic editors used to use was "you have to kill your babies." (I doubt the editor said this to gay writers -- men were not the fathers they are now. "Hang your own troops" would have been the thing perhaps.)

"Tomorrow," My friend had said, "I want the story, the pictures and your bio to me tomorrow." Writers require deadlines. By morning I had cut the story from 87 pages to 28. A trim synopsis.

When ZB asks the photographer in the village where her Grandpa is, Flash says he's with his agent whose office is in the 'O,' next to the 'H' where ZB lives "what does an agent do?" ZB asks. (A lot of kids may not know.) "He keeps famous people feeling good, even when they aren't famous yet. Or anymore."

What makes my story here relevant to all writers is the discovery that characters do not retire. Like great actors they're up for the run of the play. They don't age, fade away. They weather adjustments, new moves, gestures, and situations.

They were, (can I point this out?) glad to see me; unlike what are those things -- yes, school reunions, they hadn't gotten all out of shape, or stuffy. They were like the marionettes I had when I was a kid -- wanting (like me) to be taken out, placed on stage, hoping to be up there. And around dawn, as I adjusted the new neighborhood, a skateboard jazz group sketched its way on stage. The poodles with their violins found the Orthodox Jewish Raccoon with his saxophone very appealing; he tipped his top hat as poodles skipped by; on the way to their recital.

Writers file people, scenes, expressions and gestures, everyday. A week ago I'd seen an Orthodox drummer playing jazz in a South Pasadena restaurant. I knew he'd show up somewhere. Writing fiction is sort of like writers' groups - you pick up people you like and they turn out to be writers; you meet interesting people and they do become storybook animals.

And when you're writing what you see will come on board. (Not always skateboards)
The point of this is that rewriting can be a festival of surprises. As a book slims down it often opens up, revealing a direct storyline you didn't see. But how would you, you're just the writer.