Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Revising vs. Rewriting

Thanks for all the car input. I'm forcing to put a moratorium on the research because it's become a huge time sink (seriously, I virtually "built" about three cars yesterday). Oh, and when I referred to my friend Mr. Consumer Reports, I wasn't anthropomorphizing the magazine. I do have a friend who is essentially Consumer Reports magazine with legs. He gets his greatest joy in life out of researching that kind of stuff. I used to feel like I was taking advantage of him when I asked for his input on a purchase and made him do all the research, but then I learned that this really was his hobby, and it truly made him happy to do it, so now I gladly fling questions at him. He just sent me a detailed, step-by-step strategy for negotiating a car purchase, including scripted dialogue. Now I'll let my subconscious get to work on that while I work on the book. If I'm at home working, I don't really need a car.

This draft is turning out to be much more of a rewrite than a revision. A few years ago (well, 2002), I went to a session on revision at a writing conference. I was expecting the usual stuff about eliminating unnecessary scenes and looking for wasted words. Instead, the speaker said that the way to do the second draft was to finish the first draft, put it aside without looking at it, and then write the book all over again from scratch.

I'm pretty sure I wasn't the only one in the room who broke out in a cold sweat or nearly fainted at the thought. All that work on the first draft -- and then do it again? What about all those carefully crafted sentences and sparkling dialogue you'd already written? Couldn't you save any of that? That guy (I think it was a man -- I was so traumatized that I can't picture the speaker) had to be kidding. His argument was that you work out the plot and characters and figure out where the book is going in the first draft, and then when you write it again, you'll remember the good stuff that deserves to be in the book. You'll also already know what needs to happen, so there will be less meandering. You might even find yourself combining scenes or skipping over less important scenes. If you're just fiddling with the draft you've already written, you'll be too close to the work, too tied to the words already on the page to do the kind of hacking and slashing you really need to do to make the book the best it can be. It may even be faster, he said, to rewrite from scratch than to try to work with the existing book. If there was anything worth salvaging from the first draft, then you dealt with that on the third draft, when you compared the two drafts and chose the best of both versions to go in the final book.

I, quite frankly, thought he was insane. But now I think I'm getting his point. I'm having to significantly change this book on the rewrite. There's a totally different opening and set up, and a lot of the story is told in first-person narrative in the form of journal entries, which I'm now changing to regular third-person narrative. On the scenes that aren't so drastically changing, I thought I could still salvage parts of the first draft, so I was doing some copying and pasting, then tinkering. I had one scene I thought I could lift pretty well from the first draft, but then when I reread it in the new context, I realized it needed to be changed a lot. I ended up spending a lot more time trying to rework that scene than it would have taken me to just write a new scene without worrying about what I already had. Then yesterday, there was another scene that I thought would take just some copying and pasting and then editing, but as I fell asleep last night, I realized that the scene doesn't even need to be there. If I hadn't been trying too hard to follow the original book, I probably wouldn't have thought to write it at all.

I still think there's a lot in the first draft I can keep, certain scenes that really stand out in my mind -- but then again, if they stand out that much, then I should be able to write them again. I don't know. I'm still not entirely convinced. Now, I do have another book that I wrote about ten years ago, where I still like the story and the characters but I know my writing skills then weren't what they are now, and it would be pointless to try to "fix" that draft, so it will be better if I just start over instead of revising. But it feels very different to totally rewrite a ten-year-old book than it does to rewrite one I just finished.

In other news, I'm making yet another attempt to get in shape. I had the sad realization recently that I can't really fit into most of my nice slacks. I can zip them, but they don't feel or fit right. But this is also my favorite eating time of year. That means exercise. I did a workout video they had on OnDemand last night, and it must have been a good one because I can currently feel every muscle in my body (ouch). Today I think I'll do some walking and yoga to try to loosen up, and then I'll try it again tomorrow because it seems to be working. I keep telling myself that if I want to do all the baking I like to do at this time of year, I have to get some exercise every day.

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