October 22nd, 2008

alias thoughtful

Why I rewrite

Last night after a meeting with my in-person writers group, I was thinking over some comments on the chapters of THE HALFWAY HERO they critiqued, and considering how some of the changes I was going to need would have implications throughout the book, and starting to feel a little worried about the whole revision thing. Then I thought to myself, oh, well, I'll just rewrite it. And the anxiety, gone!, just like that.

Which may sound bizarre. I know when I mention this part of my revision process, the most common response is surprise and a sense of isn't that an awful lot of extra work? But for me, it's the most important part of the process. And it actually feels like *less* work than doing it any other way.

So, I rewrite. As in, open a completely new file and type the whole thing over again from beginning to end. I don't do this without guidelines--I always have the previous draft open in a separate window, so I can follow along and keep the parts I still like. See screenshot below:

(When I was in my teens, and had a smaller computer monitor, I'd print out the earlier draft and have it in front of the computer for reference as I wrote the new draft.)

And I'll also have a new outline with lots of notes on what I want to change in each chapter, where I might completely diverge from the previous draft, and useful stuff like that.

But yes, I type every single word over again. Usually at least twice for each novel. Sometimes three or four times.

Why the heck do I do this instead of just going through the existing manuscript and making changes where necessary?

1. Rewriting gets me back into the flow of the story. I feel like I'm telling the story over again--and better this time--rather than just adjusting a story that's already there. The actual putting the story into words, letting the plot and characters emerge on the screen, is my favorite feeling in the entire world. So naturally I don't mind experiencing it again. :)

2. Usually with my second and third drafts, I'm making changes to plot/characters/voice/world/etc. that affect the entire story. The thought of trying to go through the existing draft and find every single spot that needs to be tweaked makes me panic. I'm sure I'm going to miss something. When I rewrite, I catch all the spots that need adjusting as I get to them--and since I go over everything, it's impossible for my eye to slip or my mind to drift and miss something. So I'm less stressed, which is why it feels like less work.

There are some downsides to rewriting. One is that I end up with a whole new set of typos and similar errors. Which is why after I've done a rewrite, I usually print out the draft and go over it with a pen to check line-level stuff. Another is that it does take longer than simply reading through and editing. Not a lot longer--I usually finish a rewrite in a month or less--but enough to be noticeable.

By the time I've rewritten a story a few times, and gotten the major issues ironed out, I do switch to the read-and-edit method for most revisions thereafter--to save time, and to avoid the typo issue. But rewriting is still my favorite method of revision, and the one that works by far the best for me.

Anyone else want to share a revision method they love, that others think is strange? :D