23 April 2012

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite

       by Jan Grape

Jan Grape

I saw this on Facebook this morning and thought wow, this is so true. If you have trouble reading as it's not 100% clear:
"The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon." Robert Cormier. (I hope I read that name correctly.) But seeing this, naturally clicked on several things in my old brain pan and I decided it was going to be the topic of my blog today.

Several years ago I was attending a mystery convention somewhere and was complaining about rewriting. At that time I was still a baby writer and it seems like rewriting was such a dull and boring thing to have to do. And a good friend, Max Allan Collins, (I think it was) said "you have to tell yourself the story first." Fortunately, I listened and learned. Let the creative brain flow and don't stop the flow. Keep working on it all the way to the end.

You may realize as you go along that you need to research a fact, but you can make a note, right there in your draft and maybe put a couple of ** or ( ) or something to catch your attention and find later. You might want to double check a character's name when you get to Chapter 18 and you haven't thought about or mentioned her since Chapter 5. A writer friend of mine says she puts Post It notes all over the place to remind her she needs to check a fact or make something clearer.
Once you've done that by completing the first draft, you then go to work and tell everyone else your story in writing not outloud. That first draft is important but it really is just the first draft. After you finish that draft then you really ought to set it aside for a little time, several days if possible. I like to begin revising on a hard copy, seems like I can pick up on mistakes much easier that way. When you pick it up again you need to begin reading with your editor's eye. Just do a complete read through and make notes if you need and now that it's easy to cut and paste with our computers we often can do a quick change right then and there.

However, if you find a scene that might need to be clarified or strengthened, make a note and do it after you do a read-through. Often I can eliminate or add to my characters or to the setting or to the
weather or to the dialogue. I know when I first began to be published I had to go over my manuscript four, five times and now I often go over it more than that. I know how easy it is to help make my story stronger and what I can usually do to fix it.
I've discovered with dialogue that I usually have to read it out loud to be sure it sounds natural. If I have a much younger character and I'm not too sure about how things are said in today's world, I have a daughter who has raised two young men and she's up on their lingo. If I'm writing my policewoman's character I have a female homicide detective who will read my scene and tell me if it's feasible or realistic. I've had male friends read a scene with a male character and tell me that guy doesn't know what he's talking about. And no offense guys, but I find that female writers are much better at writing male characters than male writers who writing about female characters. Not all but in a lot of books I've read.

I've also discovered through the years that I really enjoy rewriting now. To edit and polish my story or book and make it the best I possibly can is pretty cool. It can be time consuming but the end result is way worth the effort. I want to story or book to sell to a publisher. I definitely want the book or story to sell to readers. It's so much fun to have a reader tell you how much they enjoyed the story. It's worth all the time and effort you put in to hear that.

So it is true that we are able to make mistakes and write crazy sometimes. We don't have to be in the operating room and hear "Oops," and worry about anything bad because we have the opportunity to fix our mistakes during rewrite.

And speaking of rewrites, I've just finished proof-reading my latest short story, "The Confession," which will be out the end of May. It's in the ACWL Presents: MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE, anthology that I'm co-editing with R. Barri Flowers. Fortunately, I didn't have to do any rewriting, it works like it is, but I did spend time even now going over it making sure it was as good as I could make it.


  1. Good piece.
    I think the key moment in a writer's career comes when you gain the confidence that if something comes out poorly it can be made better.

  2. Good topic, Jan; thanks. I'm very grateful that we are allowed rewrites--if that weren't the case; I'm afraid not many of my creations would survive the birth process.

  3. I've been editing my writing all my life, but I can pinpoint the exact time in October 2006 the second week of a three-week writing workshop) when the darlings I needed to kill started popping off the page at me. Rewriting is a skill that improves with practice--and with sharing our work with other writers.

  4. Rewriting has become a lot easier with word processors. In my initial draft I will highlight problem areas in a different color so they are easy to find. I sometimes keep an extra copy of my original so I can compare it to the rewrite. I sometimes find that the original is better. But not very often.

  5. It's a lot easier to rewrite than it was before the computer. I use different colors to highlight a problem area in my original. It is easy to find when I go to rewrite. I often keep a copy of the original so I can compare it to the rewrite. Sometimes the original is better, but not often.

  6. It's funny when I look back now. I thought every word I wrote was pure gold. Now I'm lucky if I find gold in a page or two...It definitely is a growth of a writer when we see and understand our pitiful prose is just that - pitiful...lol
    @Elizabeth, what an awakening that must have been. Obviously a good workshop.

  7. It's funny when I look back now. I thought every word I wrote was pure gold. Now I'm lucky if I find gold in a page or two...It definitely is a growth of a writer when we see and understand our pitiful prose is just that - pitiful...lol
    @Elizabeth, what an awakening that must have been. Obviously a good workshop.

  8. I don't 'enjoy' rewriting, it's part of the task. Then I keep combing until the writing starts to look readable.

    One of our colleagues used to argue men and women don't speak differently despite evidence (and papers) to the contrary. It does seem more difficult for males to write female characters than vice versa. I've been honored when told I do it well and I work hard at it.

    I partnered with a couple of romance writers who were writing male dialogue. Most of it was pretty good, but one of the male characters was expected to 'dish'– not what you expect from a guy.

  9. Good piece, wonderful Cormier quote. I agree with G Vidal. Whosaid "iam .nota writer, i am a rewriter. Ihave.nothing tosayanda lot to add.

    Herschel, oddly enough I amusing differentcoloredtext for the first time inastory i amworking on. It is very satisfying to turn a red passage to black.


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