It took me a long time through my writing journey (one which I know will never end) to understand that novels are not written in their readable form in one steamy afternoon. I don’t have a problem with knocking out a first draft – I have six of them in varying states of rebirth but I have struggled with finding a process for rewriting, which is the time when the real stuff really happens. I’ve not long finished a course on Editing and Revision and I’m hoping that I shall be able to put some of the lessons learnt to help my little fledglings become stronger and ready to fly the nest.
These are the key lessons I learnt – which are very personal to me but may well ring a bell with others…
- Understand your strengths and weaknesses. It seems an easy thing to say. But in all walks of life we do some things better than others. And don’t expect to know where these are. Ask your fellow writers, someone who has read your work and invested time in feeding back. I used to be a terrible head hopper, jumping from one point of view to another leaving the readers exhausted trying to keep up! Now I’ve sorted that I need to concentrate on my dialogue tags, not trying to be too clever with words, when a simple ‘said’ will do or better still an action tag.
- Understand the difference between revision and editing… again, it seems a simple lesson. But honestly, do you? Revision is the big (as they like to say in the business, ‘macro’) picture. Fix this stuff – plot, characterisation, setting – before drilling down to the small stuff like sentence flow and typo’s. Though the latter is easier to fix and perhaps why we concentrate on that first.
- Set yourself goals for your rewriting as you would for the draft. Work on day count, or scenes or pages rather than words. Make it meaningful to you and you will get to the end. One great piece of advice I picked up from another participant was not to spend more than two hours on fixing a scene, if you haven’t done it by then you need to move on, rather than get frustrated at being stuck. It may mean it needs filing in the proverbial bin or it may well have fixed itself by the time you’ve worked on something else.
- With reference to the ‘filing bin’, never delete anything permanently. That’s right. Never. Set up a file for cuttings, or unused stuff, whatever. It may be you want it later, somewhere else, even in another story.
- We’re all told to read our work out loud. But have you ever tried it backwards? No? Well do it. You’ll be amazed what you pick up.
I learnt lots more, as much from the other participants as anything else and now I’m putting it all in a check-list, that I will use as a template for rewrites, but not one set in stone. Because nothing ever is.