The Revisionist: The Re-Read

posted in: Writing Advice | 0

Close ReadingMy background as a journalist has made me somewhat perversely dependent on the pressure of a deadline. While I was (and still am) a compulsive outliner, I usually drafted my news pieces in my head, jotting down notes to myself about the points I needed to hit before I did a write-through. I rarely left myself enough time or mental energy for a rewrite.

So while there are so many ways that journalism has served me well in this next chapter of writing, this is one place where I’m having to retrain myself: you can’t churn a novel out in a day. I can’t keep it all in my head. Maddeningly – why gods, why? – it’s not going to spill out of me in a single, gorgeous stream of poetry and story.

I’m going to have to rewrite.

When I finished a good chunk of writing on my manuscript in November, I popped it into Dropbox and left it there, untouched, for a little more than two months. I’d like to say this was all part of my rewriting plan, that I was following the advice of many exceptional writers, who say to leave a work as long as possible and go back to it with fresh eyes.

It was procrastination, pure and simple, driven by a healthy dose of fear.

I was afraid to see what I’d written. It had felt disjointed during the writing process so I knew very little would ultimately survive the revision process. But how to approach a re-read that’s filling you with trepidation? How to both silence that inner critic and yet invite constructive criticism?

Finally, when it felt there was no getting around it, I needed to get back to it, I tried to read through once without touching the digital equivalent of the red pen – the track changes or the comment boxes. But by about page 44, I abandoned that plan. There was too much I could see leaping out from the page that I needed to flag. Refusing to let myself comment – not criticize, but comment – was starting to be even more frustrating than my worries about the state of the manuscript.

What I noticed was what I suspected: my inner critic was probably a little harsher than it deserved to be, but the truth is, the pacing is terribly slow, there is too much exposition and the key beats at the heart of the book are still a bit nebulous in my mind, which means they’re even murkier on the page.

There is a lot of throat clearing. A lot of background, otherwise known as the dreaded “exposition.” A lot of writing is simply me working things out on the page.

Here’s what’s keeping me a little sane: at least I can recognize it. I don’t *hate* it. I feel like I can work with it. This is draft one – and not even a complete draft. I can build on this.

Because recognizing it means I should be able to “fix it,” right?

For a little more emotional support on your rewrite:

  • Follow writer Louise Penny on Facebook. She writes about her writing all the time and she’s an author who’s willing to admit that her first drafts are about getting it on the page, her second and third are about getting it where she wants it to be.
  • Steven Gillis, writing for Writer’s Digest, talks about the different ways to get to a draft.
  • Joanna Penn, of Creative Penn, laying out the many, many steps to getting to a final draft.
  • Chuck Wendig’s writes about the 25 Things You Should Know About Revising & Rewriting. Here’s what he says about waiting:

Take time away from the manuscript before you go at it all tooth-and-claw. You need time. You need to wash that man right out of your hair. Right now, you either love it too much or hate its every fiber. You’re viewing it as the writer. You need to view it as a reader, as a distant third-party editor flying in from out of town and who damn well don’t give a fuck. From subjective to objective. Take a month if you can afford it. Or write something else: even a short story will serve as a dollop of sorbet on your brain-tongue to cleanse the mind-palate. Anything to shift perspective from “writer” to “reader.”

He’s right. A thousand per cent right.

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay.)

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