Wednesday, May 23, 2007


It has been said that writing is easy, but that rewriting is hard. This is true.

One of the tricks I've picked up actually has roots in one of the problems I encountered in my writing process.

When I would sit down to write something, it would flow out of me. Words would literally rush from my pen (or fingertips if I was typing), faster than I could even think of what was going on the page. That's how I'd get a rough draft, then a real first draft would come when I'd read it through and make sure it was coherent. It was on the next revision that the problem came in.

When a sentence is sitting there on your computer screen, and you see something wrong with it, it is very easy to delete the problem and correct it. This is the marvel of modern technology. As Martha Stewart would say (if she were a prolific writer), it's a good thing.

But actually, it's not. And here is why. When you start revising like that, a story (or a play, screenplay, novel, even an academic paper of some kind) can take on a choppy sort of a feeling. It's tantamount to a film director shooting the entire film and taking the worst scenes and reshooting them to make the best scenes. The problem arises in the difference in calibre from one section to another. You have, in essence, draft 1.5 instead of draft 2. How does one avoid this pitfall? Actually, I hated the suggestion the first time I heard it. But then I was stuck revising my short story "Momentum" and as a last ditch effort, acted on the suggestion. The suggestion itself? Well...

Take your most current draft and print out a fresh copy of it. Have this copy and any other copies you or any of your peers may have made notations on (I highly reccommend workshopping anyway, for any work of creative writing, because it helps you see and hear your work through another person's eyes and ears), and lay all of them out in front of you. Maybe not all of them...but the ones with the most helpful comments (which does not always include any comments you yourself have made). Open a fresh document (load a fresh sheet in the typewriter/get a fresh pen and some looseleaf (does anybody actually do that anymore (wait, I write in a notebook all the time))), and start writing again from the top. Make the changes as you go. In this way, the revision becomes not just a revision but a rewrite, in both the abstract and physical way. This forces you to iron out any complications that may arise before a problem that add to it, in addition to helping you find any problems you may have otherwise missed by just dropping in and fixing those you saw as glaring.

This isn't always the most time-efficient method of rewriting, but the result is worth the patience. Who knew Mothers were right when they said things like, "Patience is a virtue"? Of course, in some cases, this message came mixed with the image of the mother tearing into a package of Pinwheel cookies on the way home from the grocery store when all you wanted was a handful of Cheez-Its to tide you over until lunch.

And sometimes, you really wish you could rewrite something before somebody reads it.

1 comment:

Molly said...

I see you've mastered the use of the rare triple parentheses. A mother has a right to feel proud... even if you did out her on the pinwheels. Jerk.