Approaching rewrites in the right way

Over the last couple of years I’ve discovered that January is rewrite month. There are a several reasons for this: it’s when most of us decide to finally, finally, send out that novel that’s been sitting around for ages, and it’s when that indie publisher decides to go for the slipstream cyberpunk-erotica anthology he’s been pondering all winter and sends out a submission call, and it’s when that editor who’s been procrastinating about a bunch of stories suddenly makes the resolution to clear her desk before Valentine’s Day … and the net result is that writers find themselves in rewrite hell.

Anything more than a superficial rewrite can easily become a miserable experience, and while there are a dozen systems out there that claim they can help you to rewrite your entire opus painlessly and swiftly, I’ve never found any of them to work for me. What certainly doesn’t work is editing on screen. If you want page perfection, you really have to work on the page.

What does work, is breaking it down (chunking it) and knowing which part of the task I’m undertaking on a given day. So, for example, I’ll go through my work, looking for tense changes. When I find them I ring them in blue. I don’t try to correct them then, just mark them out for later adjustment. Then I’ll search out passive constructions and give them a red asterisk, including reported speech that could become dialogue, and then I’ll pick out sloppy writing and highlight it. At the end, my page looks like a rainbow, but I can see what needs to be done and don’t get confused by moving between making a scene active and setting it in the right tense. When a page is completed I strike it through with a pencil, so that I can see where I’ve got to, and yet I haven’t destroyed my rough notes, so I can backtrack on my edits if I suddenly (all too often this happens!) realise there was a good reason that something was the way it was, and I need to change it back.

But whatever I do, it’s still hell.

Labels: ,