Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing is rewriting

I'm addicted to rewriting. Like the great Connie Willis, who claims she rewrites grocery lists, I revise and revise and revise until the words on the page stop making sense. There's an old story about Japanese wood carvers that says they will continue to carve on a sculpture until someone takes it away from them; I've always thought deadlines serve that purpose for me.

I also read my work aloud. When a passage feels odd, or clunky, or tortured, I sit at my desk and read it out loud to myself. Usually this will expose whatever's not working--and it usually means some precious word has to go.

There's a wonderful little book by a clever man named Ken Rand, and published by Fairwood Press. It's called The 10% Solution, and it's the best handbook for rewriting I've ever found. Rand bases his system on his experience as a newspaperman, and its principles make great guidelines for self-editing.

I'm in the revision process now for my work-in-progress. Fortunately, my agent has set a deadline, because he's forcing me to be organized. Otherwise, I would be going over every page with a magnifying glass, finding that single word that's out of place, that metaphor that doesn't quite click, that simile that . . . well, you know. I'm just lucky someone will take this thing away from me before I polish it to nothing!

1 comment:

Dave Freer said...

In the long ago days of doing my Master thesis, when I got to draft 17 and was about to start on draft 18, my supervisor (a great man, indeed) called me in said "Stop it. Firstly you actually can't reach perfection, and secondly you are going round in circles." He had a very precise memory - He pulled up a piece of my conclusion from draft 2 - and showed how I had returned to the exact wording... :-)