Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The ABCs of Book Writing: R is for REVISING . . .

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. . . which means REWRITING.

Completing the first draft of a novel or nonfiction book is a notable achievement. Many aspiring writers don't get this far, and when you join the ranks of those that do, you may understandably experience a satisfying feeling of completion. Of course, you will probably do some subsequent revising, a little pleasurable tweaking and tinkering. Revising has a nice ring to it—revised edition or revised draft each carries a strong connotation of improved. The trouble is that revising, if it is to be productive, typically requires careful scrutiny, sometimes painful rethinking, and resultant changing of the first draft—in other words, rewriting.

The contemplation and task of rewriting can be daunting and unpleasant to many novice, and even some seasoned, authors. It is natural to wonder whether the creative process has to be this uncomfortable. Is rewriting really so crucial?

Why rewrite?

In his well-known best seller, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey advises beginning with the end in mind. This means not just having a goal but establishing the right goal. When they start out, many writers' goal is to have written. They look forward to the day when their words are in print and their faces on book jackets. They imagine the signings, book reviews, public appearances, and interviews. In fact, it's okay to fantasize about your first interview with some notable media personality—as long as the fantasy remains separate from the true goal. Rather than wanting to have written, you want to be the kind of writer who produces quality work—whether that means the finest literary novel, clearest how-to guide, or most romantic Harlequin romance. When being a quality writer is your goal, then what you must do becomes clear: you learn, write, refine your craft, write some more, rewrite, and (if need be) rewrite again . . . The interviews and signings will follow in their time.

How do I get over my dislike of rewriting?

I know of no quick tip or easy formula that will help you come to like rewriting. Probably, in the beginning, everyone hates it. I know I did. But now that I am an experienced re-writer, I prefer rewriting to writing. The reason is that writing turns your ideas into tangible form, which can be exciting; but rewriting is what will ultimately allow your ideas to reach others. To rewrite, is to write better and to communicate as effectively as possible—that, to my mind, is the real excitement.

Writers write. Writers rewrite.
The more you rewrite, the more you will find it a rewarding
effort, and the better your writing will become.
I reached this point through practice, because someone made me rewrite, or because I knew I had to do it. Somewhere in the midst of grumpily undertaking what seemed to be an unavoidable and distasteful chore, I came to tolerate rewriting, and then to like it. The only way I know to become comfortable with rewriting—even grow to enjoy it—echoes the advice I gave previously in this series: JUST write—writers write. They also rewrite.

So if I must rewrite, how exactly do I go about it?

Different kinds of books and authors require varying kinds and levels of rewriting. Generally speaking, seasoned writers rewrite in order to improve basic grammar and spelling; to ensure correct and effective word choice; to adjust pacing and sustain forward momentum; and to re-position words, sentences, and/or paragraphs for any or all of greater clarity, flow, logic, credibility, impact, and drama.

Additionally, a good deal of productive rewriting is a process of deleting or paring down that might include any or all of the following surgical procedures:

* liposuction of flabby writing. (See "O is for OW . . . Overwriting")
* removal of repetitious words or ideas
* amputation of excess adverbs and adjectives
* excision of any or all of extraneous characters, unnecessary points of view, inner monologues, circular arguments, logical gaps or fallacies, and clumsy transitions

How do I know when to stop rewriting?

Rewriting may run to several drafts
Some writers will speak of a feeling in the heart or gut that tells
them they are done with rewriting.
I have no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of when you should stop rewriting; neither do I know of any quantitative measure to determine how much rewriting is enough. But, from experience, I have learned to recognize  qualitative, intuitive signals that tell me this book is done.

Some writers say things like, I know it in my heart or I feel it in my gut. For me, I first realize that I have to rewrite when my satisfaction at having written a first draft is marred by a growing sense of uneasiness. This sense usually resolves into the odd new idea or way of thinking about some or all of what I have written. This leads to an irresistible urge to revisit the manuscript, at which point the rewriting begins, and continues. . . . I know when to stop when that sense of uneasiness is no longer with me—and, not least of all, when I can again sleep through an entire night. You, too, will develop your own way of knowing.

Is there anyone who does not have to rewrite?

Perhaps the blockbuster greats, like Stephen King or John Grisham, don't have to rewrite—if necessary, their publishers will get someone to do it for them. If you are a natural-born literary genius, then maybe you don't need to rewrite, though I doubt it. If you are unparalleled at planning your book before even starting to write, then this could reduce the amount of necessary rewriting, but I again doubt that you could successfully avoid it altogether.

In The Elements of Style, Strunk and White similarly remark that "few writers are so expert that they can produce what they are after on the first try." If the history of literature, judgement of experts past and present, and requirements of today's mainstream publishers are any indication, then most writers of most kinds of books should, and do, rewrite as a matter of course.

Writing is rewriting

Ernest Hemingway has been so often quoted on the subject of rewriting that a spirit of originality makes me reluctant to follow in the wake of so many and to repeat what he said in A Moveable Feast. On the other hand, he was Hemingway, and I can do no better than to join the ranks of those who have quoted a master writer's characteristically succinct take on the creative process: “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”

Up next . . . "S is for SCENES"