Oh the joy of rewrites – there should be a book by that title that could be stored right up on the shelf beside The Joy of Cooking. Most writers probably don’t see the process through that happy, happy lens, so I’m betting the book would get our attention.
A resting period is an important consideration. The moments after the raucous cheering that came about when one typed the words THE END is not the time to start a second draft. Through the first draft process it has been all about weaving a believable story together, getting that story from the opening pages through the ups and downs and pushing the whole kit-and-caboodle to the finish line. Rewrites and second drafts are a different beast. You have to prepare yourself for that.
Second and subsequent drafts generally entail a good deal of picking apart. It’s definitely a deconstructive process. The main consideration for me is whether the work makes sense. I read through my work asking questions. Have I got my facts straight? Could this really happen the way I’m saying it could? Is this behaviour, dialogue, thought pattern consistent with the character I created?
Questions related to structure emerge. Should this piece go here? Should this chapter end there? I move, eventually, to looking at individual paragraphs and even sentences. Is there a deeper meaning to the way I have constructed this novel? Can I strengthen that meaning by changing things around?
Then, of course, there is the cutting. I’m working on my fourth novel, so I’ve made my peace with the cutting process. I tend to over explain and since that is something that drives me crazy as a reader, I’m fairly brutal seeking out those instances in my own writing. Weeding out the unnecessary repetitions is part of this stage. Stephen King has his formula and I think it serves as a good rule of thumb: first draft – 10% = second draft. The wordier among us may have to think 15%.
On Chasing Down the Night, by the time I got to those beauty words – THE END – I’d already had two rounds of feedback from my go-to beta reader that led to significant cuts.
Here is a sample of the kind of input that is so important to me at this stage of writing:
I am amazed how you are able to weave the threads of the story together so tightly that connections are made, characters are developed and plot is advanced. For me, it is ironic that the ability you have for making every detail essential to the story, also gives rise to the need for you to decide what is most important.
After this feedback, two storylines changed quite radically, there were some significant structural reworking and a character hit the cutting-room floor eliminating almost fifty pages of the work-in-progress.
In second and subsequent drafts, I read my work for themes. Believe it or not, I don’t always see these connections and links when I’m writing. All that is golden is not planned, my friends.
I received this feedback partway through the first draft writing:
The underlying theme of running is being developed in a natural way through the activities of various characters, dream sequences, races and escapes. The end of the novel promises to relate that theme to the title of the novel.
I was taken totally by surprise. Any effort to draw out this particular theme was completely sub-conscious on my part. When I re-read and have those ah-ha theme moments (or have them pointed out to me), I start looking for ways to strengthen those parts of the novel.
So – that is me moving myself into a second and subsequent draft mind-set. Since I need to do this, I thought I might multi-task by sharing the process with my readers. How do you shift yourself from a first draft writing mode to rewrites? Does anything I do ring true with your own process? Have you got any special gems to share on this topic?