“The best writing is rewriting” – E.B.White
It has come to the attention of this blogger that rewriting is not the same as revising. In fact, reworking might resemble revising, but it is a horse of a different color. Can you tell it makes me want to retire?
No, not retire from writing. Retire from rewriting – or maybe reworking. In any case, if I want to create a masterpiece, I had better stick to the revising.
Rewriting, according to Peter Elbow, author of Writing with Power, one of the textbooks for my feature writing class, is exactly what it sounds like. You write the thing again. No, you don’t cut and paste and rearrange things. That’s revising. To rewrite, you pick up your pen, pencil or typing utensil and write the whole thing over.
Uh – a three page essay might get this treatment, but surely he doesn’t expect the whole novel to be rewritten?
Most of us know something about reworking. This happens when we have all the nuts and bolts of a story on the page. We’ve even done a decent job writing using concise and powerful language. But something’s missing. It’s not smooth sailing from start to finish.
This is where reworking comes into the picture. That cut and paste feature on the word processing software burns rubber on those pages. Roget’s Thesaurus sidles up beside this flurry of activity and offers up unique verbiage. A minute amount of excess fat gets lasered off in the process.
For writers, it’s revising that makes us look professional. Revision is the process of looking over or manuscript in order to correct and improve it. Fatty scenes that add nothing to the plot meet the delete key. Passive language scampers off the page, chased by its active counterpart.
Every scrap of writing that’s meant for an editor’s eyes should be revised five or more times. I can hear all my students whining in unison over this pronouncement. And you, dear reader? What’s your response to such an astronomical estimate?
I have to wonder: is writing ever done? I know I can always find some way to improve what’s been written. The first read-through is probably about glaring errors and the story line. On second glance, I’m circling weak verbs, over-used words and repetition in types of sentence constructions.
“Writing is never done. It’s just due.” –William Zinsser, On Writing Well
I haven’t even focused on making the language sing yet. There’s no chance this writing is ready to meet an agent or editor.
Of course, it might be time to retire. I mean, put the manuscript on the shelf for a week or two and work on something new. When you pick it up later, you’ll be able to look at it with fresh eyes and see weaknesses in the prose that went unnoticed before.
What’s your advice on revising? Do you ever rewrite? How helpful is reworking? How do you know when it’s time to retire the manuscript (maybe forever)? Your opinions matter on this blog.