Today’s tune is an old one from one of my favourites, Passenger, before his Let Her Go days. Entitled, The Last Unicorn the track is a heartbreaking love song about loss and longing, centered around a one night stand. Only Passenger could do that.
Current chain of writing days: 29
Let’s have a talk about rewrites, aka editing, aka crying over your computer while asking your writing to be better. I have to admit I’m not great at editing, or at least I don’t have a solid process for how to do it. Actually, firstly, let me tell you the two types of ways I break down editing.
Firstly, there’s grammar and spelling. Which is exactly what it sounds like, but there is also more to it than making sure you didn’t actually write organism when you meant to say orgasm (accidentally saying someone had a shuddering organism would be terrible embarrassing). In my mind this is also the part where you clean up your writing. Literally examine each sentence to see what can be cut away or condensed, or even rewritten to enhance meaning or make it less cliche’ (for the shuddering orgasm example you could replace the word shuddering with flying, or uncontrollable, or abrupt, or gratuitous, or wasteful – some of these may be cringe inducing but they’re all a lot less cliche’ than shuddering and depending on your scene could also be more defining). It’s the part where you really look at the words themselves and work them to a point where they’re pleasing to the eye and the mind, like a gardener shaping a hedge, or a clown trying to get his make up just right. For example, probably should have just stuck with the single analogy there. The clown one, obviously.
The second type is all about the story. It’s looking at the journey your character has gone on and ensuring all the right elements are in place, that all the set ups have been knocked down and justified, all story threads tied up. For example, if you had a side story detailing a character’s effort to tame a dinosaur and then stop just before they become best friends to conclude the major story line technically your spelling and grammar are probably fine; but if your story ends and I don’t see Jimmy ride the dinosaur I will scream. This one’s also more intuition than science. It’s about ensuring the story flows well, that the theme is strong throughout, that it feels right. It can be a hard thing to do. The challenge is in analysing it as a whole and finding the spots where it feels off and then trying to figure out why. This is probably the part I’m really bad at.
I think part of the problem, if it is in fact a problem, is that I edit a lot as I go. Usually when I sit down to write I reread over the last section I did to remind myself what I wrote and get my head into the right mindset. However, I typically end up editing too. Again, it’s probably not so much a problem, other than the fact that it slows me down a bit, but it does means I’ve never gotten into the habit of finishing a piece and then figuring out ways to improve it. Luckily, for me, I do have people to help me with that. Not only has Brother Jonathan completed a writing and editing course, and is a quality writer himself, I also have a close group of writer friends whose eyeballs I force my words into and then choke until they spit out some quality feedback. Finally, the Lady Holly (aka Future Wife™) happens to be particularly awesome when it comes to the spelling and grammar side of things. Of course once all these beautiful peeps have passed on their thoughts it’s still up to me to saddle up and get-a rewriting, and sometimes I can be a lazy cowboy.
The reason all this has been passing through my mind lately is that I brutally sacrificed a bunch of my writing the other day in the name of editing. I’d started working on a novella and it wasn’t coming out quite right. I was 5000 words in but instead of perpetually adding to it like I normally would I instead analysed the shit out of it. I practically wrote an essay on the things I liked about it, the things I didn’t, and then how to fix those things. Now I’m 2000 words into the second draft and the love between me and my story is strong.
Now, the trashing of thousands of words isn’t a process I’d like to continue if I can help it, but the essay analysis definitely is. Something about the free form brain to fingers deconstruction allowed me to find the weak spots in a way I hadn’t been able to before. It generated alternatives to what I had already written and then once out I was able to compare the various options and chose the right piece to slot easily into the puzzle that was the story rather than cramming in an incorrect piece and hoping no one would notice. It was good, and the result was immediately beneficial as I’m really enjoying this second draft. This must be how other writers feel. It’s great. Who knew rewriting could be so fun? And I didn’t even cry once.
Remember, if you hear hoof beats don’t think horses or zebras, think centaurs. The world deserves to be as magical as possible.