The Nine-Letter Word—Rewriting!



The Nine-Letter Word–Rewriting!


I thought I’d take my first opportunity to post on Writers in Residence to talk about rewriting—I know—boring, possibly even a turnoff. But it’s what I’m in the midst of right now, and how I feel about rewriting continues to evolve. I’ve even decided to call it a different name—Polishing—still nine letters but nicer sounding to my ear.

Some of the “things” I’ve heard other authors talk about, and do myself, under the rewriting banner are:

        In-process rewriting of scenes, chapters, etc.,
         Going back through and editing a completed first draft before or after editorial review
         Final polishing before going to a reviewer or publisher.

Only recently have I realized how important rewriting is to my total writing experience and process—I’m no longer seeing rewriting as an activity separate from writing, but an essential ingredient. It is where all the bits and pieces actually come together. Where I tighten and refine my prose and story. Rewriting is now one of the good parts of writing. But it’s been a journey getting to this point.

Incorrect spelling, grammar, punctuation are one thing—but how could it be that my first written thoughts, ideas, characters, and story arc are not perfect? With my current project, I’m having to deal with a lot of missteps with character expositions and storytelling!

Sure, there have been many times when I kept looking for the perfect word—the one with just the right connotation—even if it feels like it’s taking forever. And if I can’t find the right word, or phrase? DELETE. Hard at first—easy now. And thinking back, what I’ve left out has always been for the better—sometimes that’s been pages, even a whole scene.

But DELETEing major sections, moving activities around, changing motivations—well, I’m doing it—hating at first—but feeling better about it now. Why? Because I’ve realized in the “polishing” adventure, I want my darn books to be the best they can possibly be. And that’s not a bad thing.

On a final philosophical note, polishing is one of the few times in life I can “take back” what I’ve said or done. Indeed, in the real-world, there have been soooo many times I’ve wished for that “do-over” capability!

Thoughts from Madeline (M.M. Gornell)…

32 thoughts on “The Nine-Letter Word—Rewriting!”

  1. When I first began writing (decades ago), I had a vision of myself sitting at a typewriter (I told you it was decades ago) and tapping out a perfect little story the first time around. How humbling to realize it doesn't work that way. But you are so right that it's the only way to make your work the best it can be. Here's to do-overs!

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  2. Madeline, what a great post. I've been calling it polishing for years and it helps me face the task with a bit more energy. And optimism. Since I write so short–novellas mainly–I make several passes thru the ms. Not sure any of this is earth-shaking but these are some of the things I do: a quick read thru for overall story arc; then a chap x chap review for scene arc; then one for what I call my weasel words, ones I use and OVERUSE constantly. Each pass doing a specific task seems to make the writing tighter. Better? Hopefully. Great to see you here. Love the title of your new book, too. My best, P.

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  3. I'll have to start using the word “polishing” because it has such a nice ring to it. There have been too many times I've gone back and looked at a book and thought, “Now, why did I leave THAT in the story?” You're light years ahead of me, and it shows in your work. Love your books! Thank you for sharing.
    Marja McGraw

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  4. Yes, Paul! “…Each pass doing a specific task seems to make the writing tighter.” Exactly!

    New book title inspired by Wilkie)sp) Collins' The Moonstone.' Mine is nothing like his novel, but loved his title.

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Madeline

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  5. Terrific post!!! I write and rewrite throughout the entire process. Stephen King had mentioned in his memoir that there are writers who rewrite and edit throughout the process, but when they type the last word of the last chapter – that book is done! I never, ever forgot that! Lonna Workman

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  6. 'Polishing' sounds so much better. Makes me feel that I'm doing something positive – rather than correcting things I wish I had not written and pressing that scary 'delete' button. Thanks, Madeline, for re-energizing my rewriting!

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  7. P D James told me the first time I met her: The real writing gets done in revision. I tell my writing students their draft is their lump of clay and they are going to pare it and shape it and polish it till they find the glory within~

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  8. Not boring or a turn-off in the least, Madeline. It was very interesting to read because we all go through this ordeal of polishing. I did that to my next book so many times that another author told me to stop or I'd be rewriting into eternity. I also did the deleting thing, as well. So, it's great to know that my favorite authors do these things, too. Good job and this is a really nifty group and a wonderful idea.

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  9. Nowadays I like rewriting. First draft is just getting down ideas but revisions shape and mold the piece into some wonderful. You're right that a story is a like a jewel that shines more with each “polish.” On my WIP the second revision bears little resemblance to the first draft–and that's good. Keep writing!

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  10. Marni, thank you soooo much for your comment. P.D. James is my “rock star” writer and guiding light. Makes me heart warm knowing how she feels–and in that I'm also a potter (not a lot getting thrown lately), so your analogy is perfect! And I really like “find the glory within..” Love it.

    Madeline

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  11. Jackie, thank you for taking the time to stop by, I know you're a busy lady right now. Particularly glad you like the Writers in Residence authors–I'm honestly very honored to be included. I've met all these ladies and they are truly supportive and helpful. And smart! Very lucky there…

    Madeline

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  12. Yes, Sally, sometimes have gotten story ideas way down the road. I remember learning to swim way back when (eons ago) and there was a magic moment when all of a sudden I knew how to swim. Sometimes it's been like that with a book, rewriting, rewriting, etc.–then all of a sudden it's the book I wanted to write.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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  13. Hi Maddie…….I love the term you coined – polishing. I think every one of us does it. I think my publisher would like to kill me because I've reeled in both of my books for re-edit (not my fault) and re-write/revision. So we've had to go to 2nd edition on both. I'm going to try to avoid that on the current book when and if I find a publisher. Good post by you. Is the group all ladies? If so, just my kind of group to join – no wait…..not the best way to put that. Well,,,,,, YOU know I like girls and have met the lovely Miss Nancy.

    Pete Klismet
    Author – FBI Diary: Profiles of Evil, FBI Animal House, FBI Diary: Home Grown Terror (out soon!)…

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  14. Pete, you are a treasure–and alas, we are all women! Great you stopped by! I'm guessing 2nd editions are better than having a novel “out there” you're uncomfortable with. Much success with your current book!

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  15. I wish I could embrace the “polishing” with the same fervor of drafting, but I struggle. I KNOW it is critical. I KNOW I'll have a better book, but as a flibbertigibbit, attracted always to the next new bright, shiny thing, I struggle to embrace editing and revision. What a good post! Thanks so much for sharing your perspective. I'm working on my attitude!

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  16. I, too, find the polishing process as important, and perhaps more so, than my first draft. I refer to my initial version as my “vomit” draft – get it all out now, clean it up later. By giving myself permission to write, shall we say, less than perfect prose, I can get the entire story down quickly. Once that is completed I go back and whip it into shape. Otherwise, I'd constantly rewrite chapter one and never move on.

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  17. Yeah, I agree, Miko, the polishing is probably the most important part… I have gone over chapter one, however, many many many times in my books–there's something about that first chapter…

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