Have you ever heard a writer talk about how they are working on the ‘fourth draft’ of a book and thought why? Because ostensibly the first draft of a book is impressive enough, and shouldn’t it be all about just tweaking that? Kind of like when you were a kid and your teacher asked you to do your ‘good copy.’ Well, I mentioned the other day, that I’m doing a bit of rewriting on my novel (basically the second draft), and being the geek that I am, I thought, ‘that’s interesting, why not write a whole post on that!’
Because who doesn’t want to read about rewriting right? 😉
My idea of rewriting used to be more closely allied to a conventional idea of editing. Moving a misplaced apostrophe, changing words, possibly restructuring a sentence. Ocasssioanlly some really drastic work would be taken, but mostly, it was just about ‘perfecting’ the work I had done.
That idea has been rewritten so to speak. (Like what I did there?) Part of that is just learning from experience, part from TAFE, and part because I wrote like a crazy woman for NaNoWriMo last year, and let’s just be brutally honest and say that some of that is not read-worthy. Not even in the slightest.
But it’s not just works of fiction that I re-write these days; in fact it’s not unusual for me to rework a blog post several times before I post it, so that I can get it to a level I’m happy with. That may sound like A LOT of work to some people, but I’m of the opinion that ‘if it’s not the best you can make it, then it’s not done.’ Of course, in theory, everything can always be better, so it will never be ‘done’, and I’m embarrassed by the amount of errors that slip through my work unseen, but if I’m hitting publish, or submit, or save, I know it’s because I’ve worked hard thus far.
So why rewrite? Here are four reasons I’ve found (so far), why re-writing is useful/necessary.
To clarify your point.
Writing for pleasure (like a blog post/status update/narrative), is, in my experience, somewhat different from writing for work purposes. The latter will come with a brief and a word count, and if you stick to that, there’s no problems. Pleasure writing, on the other hand, can often go its own way quite easily, so it’s important to clarify your point.
- What exactly are you trying to say in this particular piece of text?
- What’s your message?
- What needs to happen in this scene/chapter?
If what you’ve written isn’t checking those points, it needs to be refined or scrapped.
To get rid of useless information.
This follows on from the last one but still deserves mentioning. Yesterday I was editing a chapter of my novel and I noticed that it was 2000 words longer than my ‘standard’ chapter length; so almost a whole other chapter there. When I read through, I noticed that there was so much that just wasn’t necessary. This is a pivotal scene in the book, and it needs to be written just so (as does every other scene of course). In hindsight, I can see that when writing it, I needed to know all the details leading up to the incident — what she was wearing, and who she had lunch with, and what the weather was like that day — so that I understood exactly what happened before ‘the moment.’ For the reader, however, none of that is important and just detracts from the message. Even though some of it was written ok or was funny, it was pointless in the grand scheme. #ControlX.
This seems obvious, but rewriting should make what you’ve already got beautiful. A good rewrite will make the words sparkle, and you brim with pride. Sometimes when reading something, I can see it has potential, but it’s just not working properly. Changing small or large things can take it from dull to shiny, and who doesn’t like shiny things? 🙂
To push yourself.
Because writing a novel is not a big enough challenge, we have rewriting. 🙂 No, not really. If you’re writing because you love it, you’re always going to have some sense of satisfaction after you’ve placed the final full stop. Drafting/rewriting/editing increases that satisfaction ten-fold, because you have gone above what you thought you could do, several times. It’s worth every painful moment of staring at a screen full of random collections of words.
A few tips I’ve been learning:
Be ruthless. There’s a saying in the writing world ‘kill your darlings.‘ I prefer to say ‘cut them and paste them in the notes section in case you decide later that they were invaluable after all,’ but it’s basically the same idea. Delete what’s not working, even if the words work. Make sense?
Mix things around. Sometimes I get stuck on a paragraph because of the way it starts. It might be vital information, but its beginning is poorly written. When this happens, I start mixing the paragraph around. Can I start with the thought she had four sentences in? What about if the end was at the beginning? Can that person trip over a chair now instead of later? Sometimes moving the words around helps you see clearly enough to write it better.
Know when to walk away. If you’re going around in circles, it’s time for a break or a fresh set of eyes. A friend can look at a paragraph and give you fresh perspective you didn’t see it. It may not actually need a lot of work, but you might be too close to notice that.
One re-write is rarely enough. For a blog post maybe, for a status update, likely, but for anything really important, you will need multiple drafts. Don’t be disheartened, because it’s actually fun; you’re making this already great thing, even greater, and that’s a good thing. I suggest creating a new document for each draft so that you’ve still got the original to go back to; if for nothing more than a before and after shot.
A final note: when I talk about re-writing, I’m not suggesting taking an entire manuscript, chucking it in the bin and starting all over again. (Although I’ve done that with blog posts and short stories.) That’s (generally speaking) a terrible idea. Rewriting is simply the process of redrafting; a lot will stay, a lot will be changed. And you’ll do it several times until it’s done (if it will ever actually feel done), but by then, you will have known you gave it your best shot.
Are you a writer?
How do you feel about rewriting and drafting?
Are you wondering why anyone would think this is fun? 😉