Time To Be Ruthless
I RECENTLY DUG UP the file of a novel that I had begun writing about 15 years ago. I had started it when I was still living in San Francisco. That may explain why it was called “Haight Street.”
As I was reading through it two things struck me – that it was still pretty good, and that it needed some severe rewriting.
Rewriting after a first draft is completed can be very painful.
The opening scene was good, but not as an opening scene. It was really all backstory. That is no way to start a novel. It needs to be an action scene. It needs to get the readers active attention. It needs to make them sit up straight and say, “Holy cow! What is going on here? Tell me more.” Right now, as it reads, it will get the reader saying, “Oh, that sounds like it might be interesting. Get back to me when something happens.”
This afternoon’s project will be to start rewriting that opening.
The reason I hate rewriting so much is that I know that, in the process of rewriting, I am going to have to throw out some things that I love. Some clever phrase or description will have to be tossed into the trash. It hurts, but it is necessary. I know that but I also know that unless I go through the scene with a chainsaw it will never be any good.
To be completely honest I don’t actually throw anything away. I just do my rewrite and then save it as a new, updated file. The old stuff is still there, lurking in the background, silently hoping that I will reuse it somewhere else. Previous versions are like-runt-of-the-litter puppies. They just sit there hoping that someone will want them enough to take home and love.
It is not impossible that something I write today will use a phrase or image that I first came up with twenty years ago. I may have to dust it off a bit or trim the edges to make it fit, but it’s worth a new look.
I remember reading somewhere that a second draft is the first draft – minus ten percent. My first drafts tend to be wordy. I usually throw in everything that comes to mind. I don’t notice that I’m doing that until later when I actually read it. And then I shake my head and reach for the machete. I’m sharpening the blade this morning so that after lunch I can start hacking at my literary jungle. Bwana John – working his way through Darkest Fiction!
To be honest – even though it is a difficult, and sometimes painful, task I know that I will be pleased with the result – until it’s time to do a another draft. Then the whole process starts over again.
For Third Drafts and onward I will use tin snips, then pinking shears and, finally, toenail clippers.