Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. ~ Finding Forrester
When I finish the first draft of a book, the real work begins.
I realised a long time ago that I needed to master the art of rewriting. After sleepless nights, over-writing and over-editing, I researched the process and came up with guidelines I still teach today.
Before I rewrite, I print the manuscript. I can’t edit, or rewrite on a screen. The perfect font deceives my eyes. Then, I lock the bundle of paper in a drawer and give the key to my mother. She lives a car’s drive distance away from me, and I know that she will say no. Even when I beg. I’ve learnt to resist. Even when the manuscript whispers my name at 3 a.m., even when I’m convinced that I could have done it better, even when I know I’ve made mistakes. I force myself to wait three weeks after I’ve written The End.
Once I have a hard copy in my hands…
I read the manuscript without making changes. I am (mostly) pleased with the result. I am surprised at the turn of a phrase, pretending modesty when a sentence is sublime. Of course I notice the mistakes, but I know I will have plenty of time for that later.
Once I’ve finished, I ask these three questions:
- Does the story make sense?
- What’s missing?
- What should I remove?
Then I take a green pen (green seems as if it means business to me) and I revise with purpose. My son calls it attacking the paper. I tell him that I created it, and that I can destroy it. It used to frighten him when he was young – the little creation of mine that he was. Now he just smiles.
I make sure that I mix up sentence structures and lengths. I correct clumsy wording and paragraphs. I have learned to remove pretentious words with unorthodox spelling. (Who am I trying to impress?) I cut convoluted sentences. I add name tags for dialogue if I’ve left them out.
I take out the writing that shouldn’t be there. I loved to digress before I knew how much work it was to remove the superfluous text. I remove weak verbs, modifiers, and qualifiers. What does ‘a little’, ‘nearly’, ‘quite’, or ‘sort of’, mean? I remove most adjectives. I don’t need to write about green grass or blue sky. Turquoise grass or yellow sky is interesting. I destroy any adverbs of manner lurking in the pages. I am an adverb-murdering vigilante. Crazy, I know, but true. Who really steps gingerly? I kill clichés. I blush when I read the redundant. Did I say ‘the one unique’? I change any passive writing into the active voice.
I gash green lines through sentences that jar with the writing style. I wonder why I’ve repeated words and images. Then, I fix them. I cut out large blocks of narrative. I increase dialogue. I love the white space on the right hand side of my page. I read the dialogue aloud. (I make sure that nobody hears me.) If my voice trips over a phrase, I revise the speech.
I sew scenes together with short transitions. ‘Two days later,’ is better than writing about what my character ate, drank, thought, and said, before the next important part of the book. Of course, I ensure continuity. How did Jesse, the Jack Russell, become Jerry? How did Emily’s blue eyes turn brown?
Then I breathe. I smile. I go shopping. I deserve those boots, don’t I? And a tub of Midnight Cookies & Cream makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The memory will sustain me through drafts two and three and four… But when I’m finished, I’m satisfied that I’ve worked hard, and tried my best. I save printed copies of all drafts and printed copies of all edits.
I make back-ups. I send the manuscript to a secret cyber-mailbox. I give my mother a hard copy, of course. (My sister gets one when I read about the writer whose house burned down, when he left the oven on after fighting with his mother…)
And finally, I’ve learnt to stop when the rewriting is finished.
- An Editing Checklist For Writers
- 12-Steps to Self-Editing – your stress-free guide to preparing a manuscript
- Rewriting – A Checklist for Authors
© Amanda Patterson