Monday, 16 January 2012

The Joys of Rewriting


There are some people who love getting an idea down on paper, and that’s it, they’re done. The concept of going over it again and again is anathema to them. Nothing could seem more tedious and uncreative. But there's no writing without rewriting.

There are times when things come out fully formed. A short story. A poem. A sketch. A little ditty. But if you want to create a substantial piece of work, in any of the arts, you have to be ready to get down and dirty, and really work it.

This is true of all works of art. They all require slow, tedious, laborious effort. There’s a romantic idea of creativity, mostly from movies, that an artist creates spontaneously and at great speed. The writer bashes away at the old typewriter. The painter sloshes the paint on the canvas. The composer wakes inspired by a melody heard in a dream. 

Fast cuts and a driving musical score produce a montage sequence that makes it all look like so much fun. Sadly, that's not how it is in the real world.


It’s a matter of expectation. If you go in thinking it’s going to be enjoyable all the way through, and if it isn’t it’s not worth doing, you’re going to be disappointed. In the real life creative process there isn’t an editing suite waiting to cut out all the boring bits. What may look like a cohesive and singular vision from the outside, is actually made up of a thousand points of lights carefully positioned to make you think that way.

It's part of the craft to hide the workings of the clock behind an elegantly simple clock face. You wouldn't know a house requires foundations to remains standing from the outside. A computer game is nothing like the flashy graphics and high octane  gameplay from the perspective of the programmer. Making that switch from consumer to creator can be quite a culture shock. And once you make the switch it can actually spoil your ability to enjoy art the way you used to.You have to be prepared to sacrifce simple pleasures if you want to master a craft. Blistered fingers and bad backs are what you can look forward to.


The rewriting process is key to producing a decent piece of writing. When Hemingway said all first drafts are shit, he didn’t mean they were bad, or that they were worthless. But compared to where you’ll end up, where you start isn’t anywhere near what you’re capable of producing.

The thrill of getting an idea and scribbling it down is certainly very invigorating, but if you always run out of enthusiasm before the end, switch to new projects without completing the last, dismiss critique from readers as them ‘not getting it’, what you’re really doing is finding ways to avoid the plain simple truth: writing a good story is hard work. And if you aren’t struggling and stumbling and driving yourself crazy, you aren’t doing it right.

At times it will get boring and tedious and joyless, and you may think, why am I even doing this. But that’s like a marathon runner complaining because he feels tired. You’re supposed to feel like that, and do it anyway. Keep going. Because that’s part of the process. It’s what stops the flibbertigibbets from being able to do it. And once you break through the wall, the surge of energy, and the self-awareness you gain is well worth it.

Once you get used to the fact that the painful struggle early on eventually turns into the pleasure of seeing the improvement in your work for yourself (you won’t even have to ask anyone’s opinion, it will be clear to you that things are working better), you will end up actually enjoying rewriting far more than producing that first draft.
If you found this post interesting please give it a retweet. Cheers.

Thursday's post will be on how to avoid obvious, on-the-nose writing. Hope to see you then.

34 comments:

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

"...the plain simple truth: writing a good story is hard work. And if you aren’t struggling and stumbling and driving yourself crazy, you aren’t doing it right." AMEN! :)

It sort of reminds me of all the "overnight sensations" who, in reality, worked very hard for a very long time.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

Why is there a picture of Neo from the Matrix in this post?

I'm one of those people that doesn't like to revisit writing when it ceases to be fun. But I did do it. I wish I could find a super strong editor to work with that would make the process easier to spot areas that I need to strengthen.

mooderino said...

@Madeline-making it look easy often makes people think it is. And it isn't.

@Michael-the Neo picture is to illustrate how what the observer sees isn't what the creator sees. Lots of small bits of information create the illusion of reality. I would expain it better only no one can tell you what the Matrix is, you have to see it for yourself.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My bane is the first draft. The revisions are fun!

mooderino said...

@Alex-and so it should be, but it's amazing the number of aspiring writers that feel the opposite, which is a little concerning. They won't find it a very rewarding experience with that attitude.

Juliemybird said...

Great post, and something I always need to be reminded of. Retweeting!

Julie Daines said...

I have to agree. Revising is my favorite stage of the game. I love having the whole story written and then going through and adding themes and symbols and depth.

mooderino said...

@juliemybird-cheers for the retweet.

@Julie D-me too.

M.J. Fifield said...

As someone currently ensconced in the land of the endless edits, I have to say that while I'm not enjoying it as much as I do the actual creation part, I do recognize the importance of editing. It's great when a good scene becomes better.

Great post...

mooderino said...

@MJ-thanks. I think a lot of writers feel the way you do, but most first drafts are so bad (compared to where they need to be) I could never feel anything but horrified by my first draft.

Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I have a habit of editing and rewriting while I write, which means nothing ever gets done. I need to learn to let go and just write before I let my inner critic attack it with a red marker.

mooderino said...

@Jamie-there are quite a few writers I know who also do that, under the guise of 'it works for me' but I think mostly they're kidding themselves, and just allowing their own impatience to make life harder. It's a bit like building a wall and putting up the wallpaper at the same time, even though you know there's a good chance the wall will have to be knocked down.

McKenzie McCann said...

I like to think of revising as a challenge rather than an obstacle. Sometimes it's kind of nice to go back and realize you have the opportunity to make something you can be proud of. Other times, it just feels like work.

Karen Lange said...

Good stuff, and nicely said! Thanks so much. Hope you are doing well. :)

Lydia Kang said...

So true. I couldn't have said it better!

Christine Rains said...

I love the first draft. Revisions are a big challenge for me. This year, one of my goals is to revise three of my novels. It looks monstrous to me even when I read how others love it.

LD Masterson said...

Just starting another round of re-writes. Perfect timing.

(I hate re-writes.)

mooderino said...

@McKenzie-that's certainly true, but one of the good things about writing is how it isn't always the same thing (although that can also be one of the bad things too).

@Karen Lange-cheers, hope you're doing well too.

@Lydia-cheers (I bet you could).

@Christine-stay focused on how great it will be when you come out the other side.

@LD-Hi ho, hi ho....

Margo Kelly said...

fantastic post! I especially enjoyed the comment about the pieces and parts behind the simple clockface - - isn't that the truth? Rewriting/Revising is an essential part of the process.

mooderino said...

@Margo-it just takes so long, I can understand why people find it frustrating, but as you say, it is essential.

Nancy Thompson said...

I LOVE the revision process! It's where the layers are laid down, where everything truly comes to life. The first draft is like a skeleton, a necessary frame, but the real story is in the revisions, in how much farther you can take it.

mooderino said...

@Nancy-yes, but some people just like making skeletons. Sadly not much call for skeletons, other than modelling at fashion shows.

The Golden Eagle said...

I'm rereading a first draft and preparing to rewrite it right now--and rewrites aren't my favorite part of the process. This post was just the thing I needed to come across.

mooderino said...

@Golden-read it out loud, makes a big difference.

Sarah Allen said...

I'm about finished with the drafting process, and I cannot tell you have relieved I am. I enjoy the editing part so much more, because that's when you really get to dig in and get the juice out of the story. Putting it down is like writing the blood out of your fingers.

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Jennifer Hillier said...

My first drafts are always shit. Everything good (for me, anyway) happens in revisions, and by the time I'm done with a book, it's very very different than my first draft.

Imagine if we could get it right the first time? Seems like a fairytale...

Gail M Baugniet said...

Great post!
My forte is a quick haiku. Very seldom need to revise.
For me, a first draft of a novel is mostly getting the story on paper (computer) so I can begin the molding process. The past few weeks I've been agonizing because I wasn't satisfied with the opening chapter and I couldn't figure out how to fix it. Yesterday I spent hours writing and today, voile, the answer slipped out like . . . well, it did. So exciting!
I love getting to know the story and the characters on rewrite. It never gets boring, tedious, or joyless!

mooderino said...

@Sarah-I'm the same. First drafts tend to be very painful for me.

@Jennifer-it would be great though. One night, one draft, done. But then everybody would be writing an dnobody would be reading.

@Gail-that moment when things get sorted out is very enjoyable. And you don't even need someoen else to tell you, it's just obvious.

Anonymous said...

"Compared to where you’ll end up, where you start isn’t anywhere near what you’re capable of producing." I'm fortunate to have a widely-published author mentoring me through my first novel's first draft. Even though I know her critique is helping me become a better writer, it's very easy to become discouraged,to feel you'll *never* get it. Your observation and posting comes at a perfect moment for me - I thank you.

mooderino said...

You're very welcome, Mysterious Stranger.

nutschell said...

Well said! I actually enjoy rewriting more than writing. My first draft is a garden run amuck. Rewriting allows me to pull out the weeds and rearrange the flowers. :)
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

mooderino said...

@nutschell-nice analogy. Which reminds me, I really need to mow the lawn.

Rena J. Traxel said...

I love looking back at first drafts! I don't however love rewriting (not yet anyways).

lexorjoy31 said...

An Author mentoring scheme is flexible, tailored to your needs and aims, and will help you to achieve your publishing dreams. They will support you throughout the writing process, offering advice and criticism on your work to help you improve.

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