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Friday, January 05, 2007

The Importance of Rewriting

I recently picked up a book by literary agent Noah Lukeman. It's titled The First Five Pages. It's not a book on how to write, instead it focuses on why manuscripts are rejected and observations from the perspective of an agent. It's an interesting read and I'm taking my time to think about the different points and bits of advice Mr. Lukeman shares.

I thought over the next week or two I'd comment on areas that stick out to me. The first item that caught my attention was this:

"There is no such thing as a great writer; there are only great re-writers. As you've heard before, 90 percent of writing is rewriting. If first drafts existed of some of the classics, you'd find many of them to be dreadful. This process of rewriting draws heavily on editing. And editing can be taught. Thus the craft of writing, inspiration aside, can to a great extent be taught."

I can't speak for all writers, but, I know the first time I sat down to write I had a vision. I could see myself typing furiously; the words would flow and I would create a novel with riveting characters and a fascinating plot.
Ha ha ha ha

You know what I figured out? Putting words on paper is easy. Making those words mean something and capture a reader is much more difficult. I am still a novice, but I've learned much of my craft since that time. The one lesson that was hardest for me to learn was rewriting. I still wrestle with it.

I started as a reader and then turned writer. I had admired the creativity and the skill of authors. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be able to create a whole new world that other people might enjoy. I put pen to paper... and met disappointment. My brilliant novel wasn't that brilliant. The idea was there, but the words were not. I've mentioned the inner editor before and it was in that first attempt of a novel that I met him. For a year I lingered on less than 5,000 words. I edited. I rewrote. I changed. I never progressed. And this brings me to two points that I keep in mind while I write.

The first draft is crap.
This is my mantra while I write. I say this not to create a sense of defeat. Instead, it brings awareness. In my mind, I often think about what the final product should be. It should flow well, have a strong voice, be active and progress my story. When you glance over fresh prose, often it is lacking. You see where a transition is missing. You see that what you've written doesn't compare on any level to the published books you've recently read. It won't. The published book sitting next to your bed has been edited at least a dozen times, it's gone through beta readers, and it's gone through an agent's eyes and an editor. Never sit down and expect your first draft to be level with a published work. When you realize it's not "as good" as that, don't let it stop you.

Patience is a virtue.
Rewriting is critical for your novel, especially if you want to be published. You must take the red pen in hand and slash. Your first draft is the ugly lump of stone you found on the river bed. The rewriting carefully cleans it, polishes it and finally sculpts it into the work of art that will be admired by the masses. The masses have not seen the pain and frustration. They only see a final product that is breathtaking in form and beauty. Timing is key. The urge to begin rewriting hits as soon as you complete the sentence or paragraph or page. You must cage that urge until the proper time. For me, this is difficult. Every time I open my document, I want to begin editing. I allow myself little edits here and there and try to make note of things I want to change... but many of the changes and edits are cosmetic. They are the smoothing and the enhancing. First, I must finish. Then I will let myself get down to the nitty gritty of sculpting.

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Blogger Trée said...

Excellent post. Writing is hard. Rewriting harder. Re-rewriting abso-frailing-lutely delicious, assuming you make it that far. :-D

8:24 PM  
Blogger mike said...

Heck....even the silly stuff I post in my blog usually sits in draft mode for a day or more for editing.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous damien said...

So true. Rewriting has enormous potential to wreck the idea, and yet it is crucial. Fine line there.

A site that rocks for getting help with your rewrites is:


10:30 PM  
Blogger Rashenbo said...

Heheh, I never draft my blog posts... I rarely edit them either. :)

I think I might already be a member of Critique Circle... if not, I've been there. The name is definitely familiar.

11:43 PM  
Blogger The GateKeeper said...

Thick skin, right? Every writer must have it. Iccck, I hate rewriting, no wait, I actually like it. I do. I can't wait to read your snippets from this agent's book.

4:41 AM  
Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

The first draft is crap. Even worse is the rough draft. That's what I call the abortion of ink that only you can possibly make any sense of...and that only some of the time.

The first draft, which is still crap, is what another person can mostly make sense of.

9:02 AM  
Blogger Debbie said...

I'm currently reading Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird", and she speaks of this very thing. Shitty first drafts. Thank-you for re-affirming what I've just read. I do not re-write my blog posts, though. I think that's someplace that I just want to relax and post whatever comes to mind.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous Tracey said...

Nice post...sounds like you've discovered many tips so thanks for sharing them. The thing I struggle with is silencing the inner editor when I'm just trying to get words down on a page. Cheers.

6:19 AM  
Blogger Bernita said...

I EXPECT the first draft to be crap - because it's a draft.

8:18 AM  
Blogger crpitt said...

Thanks for the advice! i am doing my first bit of writing and re wrote first bit about 20 times.

6:31 AM  
Blogger writtenwyrdd said...

Don't be discouraged, but you might take as many as ten or more drafts to get your novel sold.

Or so was the concensus at the novel writing seminar I just attended.

5:13 PM  
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