Jane Hicks on the joy of writing – and rewriting

Posted: September 30, 2011 in Friday Guest

Okay so you’re taking early retirement. How do you fill those hours when the reality of free-forever strikes? You join a creative writing class. You’ve always told stories, to your own children, to the children you taught, to yourself…

But if one class is good, stands to reason two or even three must be better. So you sign up for an art class, craft lessons and a quilt making course. You also try and whip the garden into shape and do a spot of home decorating.

Life gets… hectic. Oh, and didn’t I say? There’s homework.

You do your best, but an unfinished pastel drawing of a hare spawns a fantasy tale of a fairy lost in an underground warren. A patchwork pincushion is ditched in favour of a story featuring a dying woman’s repressed memories. A tie-dye scarf ignites a murderous strangling, and the baby’s cot quilt raises the spectre of a ghost-child.

The courses gradually peter out until you’re down to one, the writer’s. This one has you hooked. This one you can’t give up. You progress from short descriptive pieces, to actual 3,000 word stories. You dream of one day, some day, writing a novel.

Day dawns when you wake with a character in mind, and write your very first line.

You attend Saturday lectures run by Cardiff University, where published authors actually talk, give tips, offer help. One asks a first page submission from the class, and chooses yours to read aloud. A real writer actually says that your first page has the hook.

The novel steams along, and when it’s done you give it to an English teacher friend.


You redraft, and redraft, then hide the manuscript in a drawer. Perhaps like a photograph in developer it will magically become the story in your mind.

Evening classes present a range of tutors, each with a different slant on the writing process. You learn the art of paring down, cutting redundancies, boiling off modifiers to leave the sarn, the essence. Sarn – my grandmother’s word for the delicious meat jelly found beneath a layer of dripping.

You return to the novel and start cutting.

The writer’s lot – rewrites, rewrites, rewrites.

Novel done and sent into the world, you are faced with emptiness. Depression sets in. You’ll never write another line. No more stories… no more words.

One day a word does come, dropping into your mind like a pebble in a pond. Where did it come from? A song, a line of TV dialogue or taken from a misheard scramble spoken on a bus? However it comes, it causes ripples, makes your mind itch. You take a walk to test its staying power. It’s still there when you get home. The word likes you.

But one lone word is useless. Where’s its friends?

One frabjous morning the word is nesting in the middle of a whole sentence, which grows into an actual paragraph, then a full page. The picture grows, a story comes to life. It’s like when you see a colour chart in Wickes and get a flash of your dingy living room decked in brand spanking new colours.

You rush to get that story down, up at five and late to bed.

Ah, and then come the tweaks, the rereads, that chase for elusive perfection.

Rewrites, don’t you just love ‘em?


Jane Hicks writes adult and young adult fiction, novels and short stories. She took second and third prizes in the recent Words with Jam First Page Competition, wowing the judge with her wit, inventiveness and unique style. 

  1. So true – and beautifully written to boot!

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