I hate rewriting.
I know I shouldn’t. The masters — Michner, King, Dr. Phil — swear by it. Michner said he was an average writer but a master rewriter. Not sure what King or Dr. Phil said, but I’ve heard at least one of them endorse rewriting as a critical element of the creative process. It’s also part of the business of writing, since chances are you won’t sell anything until you rewrite it to some degree.
If you’ve heard one of my rants at a workshop, you’ve heard me claim that if you follow the right story development process and create a blueprint for your novel based on specific criteria implemented in context to a full and intimate comprehension of story architecture, that you can write a first draft that’s submittable to an agent or a publisher. And I stand behind that. Sort of.
Like Bill Clinton in his lowest moment in public office when he said it depends on how you define the word “is,” my position on rewriting depends on how you define the word draft. I contend that a polish is a different animal than a draft, just as a kitten is a different beast than a cougar. One purrs, the other scratches your eyes out (true for either of the definitions of cougar these days). I recently received hate mail from a writer who disputed that particular differentiation, claiming that if you change one letter it constitutes a new draft. A lawyer, no doubt.
So let’s cut the nit-picky baloney and get clear. Of course you tinker with your manuscripts. When I talk about drafts, I mean adding or changing something substantive, in a storytelling sense, that you didn’t nail in your previous draft. The insertion of new ideas, characters, plot points, settings, the ending… anything that alters the course of the story. Basically a rewrite. That‘s a new draft. Polishing your language isn’t a rewrite, and let me say it loud and proud here and now: you should polish your literary heiny off. Then do it again. And again. Make the words the best they can be. Then put it down and come to it later and keep polishing.
I just lived this in a guest blog I submitted to another website this morning (“Write to Done.com“… I’ll keep you posted on when it appears). I counted the number of times I opened the file — 12 — and was conscious of the fact that I made changes each and every time. I added nuance. I swapped a good word for a great word. I clipped several over-written sentences. I deleted some stuff. I punched up the attitude. In the end it constituted a new draft by any definition, but was each revision cycle a new “draft” of the article? Hardly. Two were, the rest was spit and polish.
But who cares. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you take two things away from this:
1. Keep coming back to your work, over and over again. You’ll find something to tweak, to improve, every time you do. Somebody — no doubt dead now — once that said novels are never finished, just abandoned. Dead on.
2. You absolutely can write a first draft that is submittable in terms of the story it tells. If you get your head around story architecture and execute that craft acorss the landscape of your manuscript, then all that’s left is to polish. Then, refer to step 1 above.
Write, read, polish, repeat. That’s the way to get your work published. Insert the word “revise” as necessary, because it’s not a failure if you don’t write a first draft that sings, it’s simply an achieveable objective.
Maybe I don’t hate rewriting afterall. I’m on my sixth pass on this post, and it’s better for it.