How to rewrite

I’ve edited stuff professionally (non-fiction), been an active member of a critique group for many years, and completed a post-grad in creative writing, but I’m still very much a novice when it comes to rewriting. In fact, I think this book is the first one I have properly rewritten and not just edited.

The main thing I’ve learned (so far) is this: rewriting is not for wimps.

I always thought that rewriting was my favourite part because I loved making klutsy sentences into smooth ones. I enjoyed spotting inconsistencies and repeated words and broken metaphors, but the fact is I was confusing editing with rewriting.

Here’s what I think I know now: your first draft is Not A Book.

I thought I knew this before, but I was still holding onto the idea that I could somehow ‘spoil’ the book at the rewriting stage and that held me back from making big changes. I completely agreed with Laini Taylor on revising when she said:

Be clear-eyed and honest, and be brave. Open your mind to new ideas and new ways to make your story better. It’s never too late to make a bold change.

But I didn’t really get it. Not until I did it myself.

Now I think that the best way to think of your first draft is not as a pile of clay to be moulded but as a wide clearing in a forest after a storm. The clearing is surrounded by lightning-struck trees and boulders that have been tossed about by powerful winds. It’s filled with scattered branches, twigs and leaves. In short, it is a scene of destruction.

Rewriting is like gathering all that fallen wood and building it into a pyramid. Laying the big branches as structure and filling in the gaps with little branches and twigs, and throwing away all the wood that is too green or the wrong shape.

And, sometimes, rewriting means looking at your beautifully crafted pyre and setting fire to the whole lot.

As I said, it’s not for wimps.

[Image credit: freedigitalphotos.net]

5 thoughts on “How to rewrite

  • 8th October 2012 at 2:33 pm
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    “I thought I knew this before, but I was still holding onto the idea that I could somehow ‘spoil’ the book at the rewriting stage and that held me back from making big changes.” Yep, that’s my attitude to rewriting in a sentence. Thanks for this post – I’m only starting out at the beginning writing stage, but I will keep this in mind when the time comes for rewriting. It’s always been my weakness! I might practice with some old short stories. 🙂

    Reply
    • 8th October 2012 at 3:51 pm
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      Hello, Aine – thanks for reading. Practicing with short stories sounds like a good plan. Best of luck with your writing!

      Reply
      • 8th October 2012 at 7:07 pm
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        Thank you! 🙂

        Reply
  • 9th October 2012 at 8:18 am
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    See, in any other field of endeavour you’d get an award or a medal or something for that kind of bravery…

    Well done.

    One Victoria Cross, Purple Heart (or Cross Typewriter or Purple Prose or whatever a writer’s medal is called) coming up…

    Reply
    • 9th October 2012 at 9:24 am
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      Thanks, Matthew. I’d settle for a gold star sticker and, y’know, a book deal…

      Reply

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