Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Writing and rewriting

For a long, long time, I labored under the illusion that the only kind of "real" writing is writing something new - making up new scenes, characters, plot outlines, etc. You know, the time when you're flying on the wings of inspiration and your first draft is coming rapidly together, but with lots of mistakes, typos, inconsistencies and misuse of grammar and vocabulary because you're working so fast.

After finishing the first draft, I'd go over it, notice the mistakes and wrinkle my nose. "I guess I should go over this again and correct it at some point, when I have the time", I would tell myself. Somehow, the time never came, because I was taken up with another great new idea.

It is no wonder, then, that I ended up with a whole lot of first drafts that could have been good - but would never become good, because I thought the "drudgery" of editing, rewriting and correcting mistakes was beneath me. It was, in fact, lack of diligence. Because of it, a very long time passed before I had anything that was even theoretically publishable. 

The truth is, unless you're a best-selling author with a publishing team dedicated to polishing and perfecting your work while you're writing the next Big Thing, you will have to put a lot of work into editing, polishing, and improving your novel. There's no way around it, if you ever want something that moves beyond the first draft stage.

No author is perfect, and nobody produces a first draft that is impeccable. Sometimes you'll want to make changes in the content: swap the order of two chapters, write a prologue, delve deeper into your MC's motivations. You might add characters, or decide a character is superfluous and edit them out. You might encounter inconsistencies, especially if, like me, you often work late at night when your concentration is not at its peak. For example, just today I was editing a scene from Wild Children at which some of my characters are attending a funeral. Then I noticed that, while I mentioned one character who had stayed home, that same character is standing next to the grave in the next paragraph. Obviously I was interrupted while I was writing that scene and lost track of things.

Editing your first (second, third, fourth) draft can be more time-consuming than writing the whole thing in the first place, but there are no short cuts. It is essential to producing good-quality work.