Not a few days ago, a disaster occurred: almost all of my documents on the novel perished into digital nothingness. Since I’m not a sort of a person who would abandon a huge project because of a hardware problem, I resolved to rewrite all of it. Even so, you can imagine my despair.
However, as I started re-doing things I thought I’ve already done, some fun stuff happened.
Of course, every writer has heard it an infinite number of time: rewrite. Writing is when you smash your head over the keyboard, and rewriting is when you sponge the blood off it.
A gruesome metaphor. So much as I’m grateful to my collapsed flash-drive, it’s been exhausting. And it still will be for a while. I’m yet to rewrite a short story.
Back to the point, you need to rewrite. You don’t think so? You’ve double-checked and have read the paragraph a bazillion times? You know this works? Repeat: you need to rewrite.
Rewrite what? Just about everything. Well, maybe not. Depends. But most likely, all of your drafts, mercilessly and entirely.
It’s not fair. Seriously. Especially when the only thing you have left is a good memory, and I mean brain memory.
Back to the point.
From now on, I should clarify: I’m talking about projects a bit longer than those I posted a few days ago, that is short stories and novels.
Without further ado, the first reason why you should rewrite: logic.
No, not that you’re not logical enough without this hellish enterprise; I’m alluding to the logic of events in your story. And the bigger, the more multi-dimensional your story is, the more it needs rewriting.
We try keeping in mind that character A went to a pub while character B was feeling frustrated, and character C was trying to solve a life-and-death matter in a war zone, and in the meantime, somewhere on the very premises of the novel, character D was playing chess with his sister. Obviously, we fail, and more than once. You wouldn’t think so only after reading through your synopsis, but I can bet there are two or three rather crucial episodes left dangling in the air, without resolution.
Or, say, there aren’t. In which case, proceed to the second reason to rewrite: characters.
Characters, characters, characters. They are wonderful and difficult to handle, close to the heart and absolutely alien, and moreover, they are people. Which means it can prove tricky to predict their actions.
While writing your very first draft, the fingers are driven, apart from everything, by some idea as to what should happen in the final manuscript. Character A should get drunk, character C should die—sorry about this one. And it’s fine. If you worked through your characters, you wouldn’t make them embark on a quest they otherwise would reject. What you’re missing is details. Some of the motivations are just a little far-fetched or questionable or not strong enough.
And so it doesn’t work.
You need to rearrange the scenes, add, and erase. And you are so unlikely to notice it without rewriting.
You could hire an editor straight away. You will have to, eventually, but wouldn’t it be better to present a palatable product from the start? Besides, the editor costs something. So does your time, in fact, and you don’t want to throw away the contents of your wallet on both in double.
The editor will not rewrite instead of you. It isn’t his job.
And I should know, because of how my work looks now and how it used to look.
Some other things about rewriting: When do I stop?
A good question. You might find that you need to rewrite everything you’ve ever written and rewritten, and it’s fine. No, it’s terrific. It means you now understand the concept of imperfection. The problem is, you can’t reach its prettier brother.
You will get more skilled and diligent, but that’s all. Which is why you should also learn to stop rewriting at some point.
Where is this point, you will know. Well, you’re supposed to. In the end, something will tell you its “enough!”, be it common sense, empty pockets, or laziness. It could even be the soothing and tired sensation that arises when you fathom it’s still not ideal, yet you can squeeze nothing else out of the head.
And there is no other way to define the limit to your particular genius, to your particular masterpiece.
And yes, you are a genius, and it is a masterpiece, because you’ve rewritten and edited a bazillion times. Or you haven’t, in which case don’t feel too guilty anyway.
Enjoy, because it is enjoyable!
Have you ever been in the same unfortunate situation? And do you find that rewriting your works makes them a whole lot better? Feel welcome to share your opinions as well as this post.
Okay, sort of. No, not sort of—actually, forget this one.