Friday, May 25, 2012

Redaft (that's not a typo)

By Russel D McLean

Bit of a short one this week, folks. That's because I'm smack bang in the middle of redrafting... something (I don't like to talk about works in progress, often because they change so completely by the time I'm actually done that I feel like a liar when the finished book comes out).

But I've been thinking about the art of redrafts in the age of push button technology. What really got me going was a post from an indie (or self-published, depending on your favourite term) writer on facebook that was, in essence (because I'm not online just now):

“Just away to post my new book to Amazon. Don't worry folks, I always read through once before publishing!”


That is not a redraft. And yet to many would be authors, it really is. I have done work as a freelancing critiquer of manuscripts for certain organisations. They send me (anonymously) work by new/would be authors and my job is to help them make the work better.

But what I find is that in ninety percent of cases no matter what the covering letter says, the author has gone through the book once, maybe twice, and decided that that is enough. Even with THE LOST SISTER, which had to be written fast, I went through five complete and thorough re-writes before I was anywhere close to happy. With FATHER CONFESSOR I have used the extra time I gained in writing (there were a few contractual hold ups that delayed publication) to really root around and make that sucker as good as it can be. In fact, better.

Redrafting is not about reading through once you've finished and correcting typos. It is about seriously examining the guts of a novel and rigorously checking whether its as good as it can be. It is not a quick, easy or mechanical process. It is tough. It is painful. It sometimes means that you have to rethink ideas you previously believed to be sacrosanct.

This project I'm working on now has been gestating in one form or another for five years. It has changed direction so many times that it is not the same novel I believed it would be. It is better. It has been rigorously, fully redrafted. And the truth is even when its published I'll still probably think of things that could have been better, but by then I'll be wise enough to leave it alone and let it stand. But I'll know that I put the work into it.

The temptation, however, when I finish that first draft to just push a button and send the book out in the ether will be overwhelming. Because we live in the age of instant gratification and even I am not entirely immune to that (I'll push the button on this sucker maybe three hours after I'm done). But I am glad that the publishing process gives me the time to carefully consider the book what I wrote. I understand that writing a good novel takes time. And patience. Because if you don't make it the best you possibly can, what's the point? And because the novel you're so excited about in the heat of writing “the end” may need a cooling off process before you can realise exactly what you can do to make it the novel it should be.

1 comment:

Bryon Quertermous said...

Wow, this is what the books look like AFTER that many redrafts?? I can't imagine what the rought drafts are like...

I agree with you though and I think that's what pisses me off most about the whole "indie" culture is the institutional lack of respect for the revision process. And what makes me even more pissy is that the bulk of readers don't seem to mind. They get all up in arms if a word is spelled wrong or if the wrong gun is used but nobody says anything when the dialogue is crap and the entire last third of the novels makes no sense at all.