Writing is Re-Writing

I thought I knew what Michael Crichton meant when he said “writing is re-writing.” Then I finished my second draft. A quarter of the way through editing a third draft, the message has finally crystallised: turns out writing is re-writing.

This post is about where I’ve been since June.

I started this blog when I finished my second draft and I was determined to A) send my novel to an agent by the end of August and B) post at least once per week. It wasn’t until I started really editing  that I realised how much I learned through the development of my second draft – how much growing I’d done as a writer, as a person.

My second draft started in late 2010 after an abnormally fast first draft (2-3 months) and a few months of writer’s block while I wrestled the conflicting feelings of loving my story but hating my style. It wasn’t until I found the potential in a secondary – tertiary, even – character that I found my stride again and started weaving her in while re-writing what I’d done. That took a long time: a little more than a year and a half. In June, when I finished and looked back at the start, I found a story I love… and an almost schizophrenic style: the beginning and the end sound like they’ve been written by completely different people.

I’ve been working on that and, as you’ve gathered, it has taken a lot longer than I thought. I realised my problem when I got about three pages in… then I went through a brief period of avoidance. Considered a career as a baker. I even considered pursuing my current career even further. But then, after a long struggle that involved hacking apart the same stale words and sticking them back together with an old piece of bubblegum, I wrote something different. I wrote a wholly new scene: one that blended the deeper understanding of my characters with the higher level of skill I’d gained over two years. I wrote something good.

In this process I have failed to achieve my artificial deadlines many times – self-forgiveness is paramount in this profession (Lesson 1) – so I’m not too upset about that. Especially because I’ve learned how important and exciting this stage of the journey can be: I’m reading  every page of my novel to ensure a consistent voice, a consistent point-of-view, a consistent silent force that leads each character toward their ultimate decision. The task is enormous, but it’s the chance to empower the characters and the novel to speak for themselves. This really feels like writing.

If you want some more specific advice about editing, I’ve found a nice, succinct post by Joanna Penn, whose blog often reminds me that I’m part of a great big community of people who sit, alone, in their quiet writing spaces as they go about tackling the exact same problems. I definitely relate to her description of finishing her first draft and many of her key points for editing.

See you in a week or less – my commitment to this blog has now been re-affirmed.


2 thoughts on “Writing is Re-Writing

  1. broadsideblog

    Oh, yeah. The dirty secret is that writers of fiction think it’s only them. I write non-fiction (two books so far) and there is a ton of revision involved. I turned in my first 34,000 words in January 2010 to my editor who said “I know this is just a first draft.” It wasn’t. I got so scared I couldn’t write a word for many long months and my deadline was June. In May I banged out another 30,000+ words. In July I was asked to revise Chapters 1-10 (of 12.) Talk about terrified. But I did.
    Even published (ouch) I still see many rough spots and infelicitous sentences, but it’s gotten decent reviews and I’m proud of it.

    Writing = thinking. Rewriting is really just re-thinking.


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