22 February 2012

Get Me Rewrite!

by Robert Lopresti

So, I have been sitting in the 'ol rocking chair with my black notebook full of short stories, trying to do some rewriting.  My trusty assistant has been doing her best to help by stepping on the notebook and sticking her tail in my face.  Thanks, Chloe.  Don't know what I would do without you.  (And when can I start?)

I rewrite a lot.  I should count the number of times an average story goes through the mill but it would probably be too depressing.  Ten?  Easy.  Probably twenty is more typical.

I am old enough to remember the good old days when rewriting meant typing the whole damn thing from scratch every time.  Now the computer remembers it for me and I just have to put in the changes.  Bless technology.

But I still have to read the thing all those times.  As I have said before, my first draft is basically a full-length outline.  Barely literate.  Very few sentences will make it from there to the published (oh, please) version without being changed.  And that's fine with me, but it does  mean there is a long slow process of converting the dross to gold.

What I find most annoying are the notes I leave to myself as I go.  FIX.  CHECK GEOGRAPHY.  CALENDAR?  REWRITE!  I never know when to address these commands: when I am editing with a pen or later at the computer.  So the urgent notes tend to move along from draft to draft.

The music man

It is so much easier it is to rewrite songs.  That happens automatically.  After I write a song I sing it twenty or thirty times while I am doing other things - bicycling or washing dishes, for instance, - and then when I look back at the written version I find that extra words have dropped out, phrasing has improved, etc. That's one reason folk songs tend to be so memorable; hundreds of editors converting it into something better.

Unfortunately, I find that singing a short story over and over doesn't work very well.  However, here is a trick I do find helpful: when you're near the final draft and thinking about sending a story out to the editor, read it out loud.  It is remarkable how many times the ear will catch a gaffe that the eye stopped noticing.  Like a changed sentence that left a remnant behind: "It wasn't not going to be easy."  I thought that I had kicked that "not" out...   The ear will also catch style problems, like using the same word three times in a sentence.

And now, if you will excuse me, my assistant says I should get back to work.  Or feed her some Friskies.


  1. Rob, I just wanted to add that in addition to reading your work to yourself, it's really helpful if someone reads it to you. Anything awkward jumps straight at me when someone else reads my writing to me.

  2. And if you want to save your voice, use a program like Apple's voice synthesizer. They are getting better and old 'High Quality Bruce' reads every word I write.

  3. Rob - I'm curious about how much editing you and others do by print copy and pen, and how much you do on the computer. I've been trying to wean myself away from print copy and pen, especially with initial editing, which, as you say, involves massive re-writing that can't easily be done in the margins of a print copy. However, the same part of me that resists purchasing a Kindle or Nook likes to hold and read pages when I edit.

  4. "The ear will also catch style problems, like using the same word three times in a sentence." I found this very thing when reading a draft of mine aloud only a week ago!

    Good advice, Rob. I am a committed reader-alouder.

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  6. Trying that link again.

    Only problem with reading aloud is this . . . if I bore myself I get really really depressed.

    Rob, congratulations to you (and John Floyd and R.T. Lawton!)on your stories in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Terrie Moran just announced your successes in her post today at Women of Mystery

  7. Brad, I like to get away from the computer as much as possible (after all, I use one at work too), so I enjoy printing the story and working that way.

    Never thought of using a person or machine other than me to read the work. thanks for that idea.

    And yes, it was very kind of Terrie to give us a write up. I can promise that John, R.T., and myself will be writing about our stories in AHMM in weeks to come. (Theoretically the issue isn't on the newsstand until the end of the month.)

  8. By the way, Chloe is the tortoiseshell cat in the picture. The orange is her friend Jaffa. He doesn't help with my editing, but he likes rocking chairs.

  9. Rob, I'm impressed that you can sing a song you've just written over and over while doing something else. It takes me ages to memorize a newly written song, and if I hear another song, or worse, several, in between, I promptly forget my own new creation. As for the old days when we threw out the paper with every typo, at the time, luckily, I was writing poems, not novels.

  10. Liz, there is a problem with songwritng that didn't quite fit in this piece: I can usually memorize a song by someone else, but with my own songs various early drafts keep popping into my head when I try to sing.

    Lois, just in case my head gets too swollen an editor was kind enough to send me a rejection today. Time to go back to Rejection Slip Investigation.


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