Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Final Edits (the hate phase)

Rewriting is vital - we all acknowledge this, even those who resist it. It would be wonderful if every piece of writing came out perfect first time, but that rarely happens, and with a novel, probably never. Some writers revise as they go, working backwards and forwards, not creating the next pages of new words until they're happy with what's already there. Others (like me) prefer to finish the whole draft before beginning the rewrites.

There are some novels that I have completely rewritten two or three times - by this, I mean putting the draft aside and starting again from scratch, without referring to the earlier version at all. Some novels demand this - they demand that you re-vision the whole thing, not just fix bits of it. Usually I am cutting as well as rewriting. I say too much, too obviously. But I'm also adding - deepening character, motivation and description. I hate the idea of padding though, so anything added has to be necessary.

Past all of that, you eventually reach the final editing stage, the nit-picking stage. At this point, I read and re-read, looking for anything that niggles. If it niggles, if it stops me reading, even if I'm not sure why, I mark it and come back later to rework. The nit-picking is important, but it drives me crazy. My own words all start to sound ridiculous, overblown or pathetic. I keep thinking - who is going to want to read this rubbish? But I keep going with it, knowing it only takes one clunky sentence or wrong word to pull the reader out of the story.

Finally, I hate the story with a passion. I never want to see it again. I believe if the editor asks me to change one more thing, I'll run off screaming, never to be seen again (but I don't - I do what is asked, if it's right). Sometimes people ask me if I read my books again after they've been published, and apart from reading them to kids on school visits, the answer is no. Why on earth would I want to do that? But I also avoid it because it's almost inevitable that I'll see something that I missed, that I wish I could change. Too late now!


Anonymous said...

Boy, is this true! I love how honest you are about the process. It is such a love/hate relationship. And writing a book IS a relationship--with its glorious parts, its tedious parts, its hateful parts, its fun parts... Thanks for being so transparent.

Tracey said...

Hmm, maybe that's why I keep rewriting -- I've never learnt to hate a story yet, but I agree that once it's published it's dead to me. I don't want to ever read it again.

And of course the endless fiddling has its dangers -- most particularly in your ability to view your work at a distance, to be objective. It can be too easy to fall in love with a sentence that doesn't belong in a story, just because that sentence is beautifully written. Cull, cull, cull. And of course all that culling leaves room to add, add, add. That's the really fun part. Fleshing out more and more. Or alternatively that endless fiddling can make perfectly good sentences sound flat and ordinary.

Sherryl said...

That's what bothers me - not the adding so much, but that in fiddling with a sentence, I'll make it worse. I've seen it happen in poems. In fiction, I usually have to take the sentence out altogether, and start again with the whole thing.