Last post we talked about ways to get your drafts down, especially when you’re staring at a blank screen. Freeing isn’t it, when you realize you don’t have to be perfect when you create? Now let’s move on to the other half of the task: fixing up your draft, or rewriting.
Writing Tip for Today: Rewriting can feel as daunting as that blank screen, but with a simple plan, you can dive into revision and maybe even come to enjoy it.
What Writing Is
They say writing IS rewriting. But so often we are stumped as to how exactly to do this rewriting without giving up or losing our writerly minds. If you’re like me, you tend to view critique (whether from an agent or editor, your critique group or your mom) in black and white terms. Either you’ve scored a homerun, or you’ve flopped, bigtime. But let’s drag that idea off to the side and think of rewriting as just part of the process. Yes, it might be nice not to have to go over and over your work. It would be thrilling to just barf out a perfect story. But over twenty-five years or so of writing for publication, I’ve begun to see my many revisions as a learning curve that not only develops me as a writer, but more importantly, as a person. If I wrote everything perfectly and in depth on the first draft, I might never question my beliefs, never be challenged to think deeper, wider, stronger, with more empathy and compassion. Someone has said, “Write to learn what you know,” and, I’d add, what you don’t know. Revision is just as much a part of writing as that draft. You’re not wasting time by rewriting again and again, you’re strengthening and refining your core ideas.
Start Where You Are
If you’re still newish to writing and still learning all about the advanced concepts, do what you can do. Most writers can spot passive voice or “ly” words that don’t add much. If you believe you’re only skilled enough to copy edit, you might still see misspelled words. If you are not confident about diagnosing a story arc issue, you can still comb your draft for inconsistencies (the character begins wearing sensible shoes, but by the scene’s end is suddenly wearing heels), silly punctuation (Let’s eat Grandma!) or actions or thoughts you decide a character might not do. Remember, no matter how new or skilled you are to revision, we are all readers (I hope!) who should be able to spot many flaws in a draft. I think that’s why Anne Lamott’s advice to “fix it up” points to rewriting as a process rather than a one-time thing you do before hitting “send.”
Revision might be tackled with less fear and loathing if writers approached it systematically, at least at first. Don’t try to rewrite or “fix up” everything at once. Go over your work to check for spelling, grammar and usage. Another time, concentrate on character development. On yet a third session, revise for the story itself, or work on the beginning or the end. All writers must revise their work until it is as polished and readable as it can be. But it doesn’t have to happen all at once. In fact, taking areas one by one helps me focus on the places I’ve chosen to revise. Trying to overhaul everything in one revision is sort of like herding cats—when you get one to behave, you find ten more that need help. As you become more skilled at revision, you may be able to combine areas. But it’s fine to peel back the layers of your story’s onion as you “fix up” what you “got down.” Happy Rewriting!