Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Once More With Feeling

Writers out there know the feeling of finishing the first draft. A sense of exhilaration. You did a thing! A pretty remarkable thing at that. From flash to thousand page epics, finishing a piece is an achievement.

Until it isn't.

You know what's next. Revision. Revision. Revision. All the work that turns a jagged piece of metal into a blade.

But what happens if the blade still isn't quite right?

What happens when the revision's shitty big brother shows up? The dreaded rewrite.

I've found myself in that pit a handful of times since being published and each time has been equally difficult and exhilarating. Here's a few things that have not only kept my sanity, but made the process just a little easier.

1) Darlings? What darlings? 

It's all fair game, my friend. ALL OF IT. I don't care if you're in love with Supporting Character C or with your A plot. It can all go and you need to make peace with that. You're building a new story from the ground up using ELEMENTS of what came before. Now, can those elements be entire chapters or passages? Sure. You still need to remember that a rewrite means this should be a whole new book. Changing POV, tense, themes, etc are all in play. The good news is the book you're tearing apart is effectively the best working outline you've ever written. Lean into that and you'll write an entirely new book in just a little over a month (fueled entirely by alcohol, self-loathing, crippling imposter syndrome, an a chip on your back the size of Tallahassee, but I digress...)

2) This is still a first draft. Act like it.

An extension of the themes from above. You're not beholden to anything, not even yourself. If you have wild, new ideas, go for it. Entirely new characters? Now is the time. Discover a theme you never saw before? Sprint head first into it. Don't treat this as another revision. You're doing something new and it can be used to draw that enthusiasm out of you that the revision would normally crush into a fine powder.

3) Learn how to take editing notes and turn them into collaborative opportunities.

I LOVE notes. Seriously, whether it's from a friend, my agent, or an editor, notes are not knocks. Every single one is an opportunity for me to talk about my story and my perspective with others willing to provide me with their precious time and perspective. In my mind, a note means there's something that needs to be addressed in the story. Even if it's simply a clarifying sentence, it's important to remember notes aren't negative. Get past your ego and talk things through. I've taken notes, bypassed them, and come up with entirely new ideas with the note giver in minutes simply because I've recognized the value of collaboration and taking criticism in stride.

4) Know your limits.

The bad news: sometimes the rewrite doesn't work either. The good news: you did not waste your time. Take the lessons you can into your next project or next rewrite. You've learned so much from the work whether you realize it or not. Use those lessons to key into opportunities for improvement. Did the project suffer because of multiple shifts in perspective? Were the story beats not quite working right? Try to see where you faltered and work the weaker muscles in other ways. Write a short story to help improve word economy. Write monologues to help with dialogue rhythm. A rewrite is a massive chance to really improve your craft, even if it only leaves you with a clearer perception of your weaknesses.

So, as I move into revising this entire novel rewrite I started back in April, I keep these things in mind. We're never quite done, but it doesn't mean we have to let the hard parts beat us up. 

Get back to writing.

1 comment:

Dana King said...

My only addition is not to fear a rewrite. I've got into the habit of at least re-typing the first draft for the second draft, on the principle that it's easier to abandon your darlings than it is to kill them.