Some writers hate redrafting. Analysing, dissecting and rewriting their work? A sure way to make themselves hate it.
But if you’re hoping to amuse a buying public, your first draft will probably not be good enough. I’ve written about this before in I had no idea novel-writing was such hard work. Only the superhuman can get everything right on the first go. (I’m talking here about self-directed rewrites, before you show the novel to anyone else. Rewrites instigated by beta-readers, agents and editors are a different kettle of fish.)
So redrafting is a fact of life for writers. If you do it with gritted teeth, that’s a problem.
It so happens I love this phase. But I didn’t realise why until this week.
The penny dropped when I heard Michael Caine on the radio answering a question about giving natural performances.
He told the interviewer: I use one of the basic principles of Stanislavski. It’s called the method. That’s not looking at the floor and mumbling and scratching your bum. With the method, the rehearsal is the work and the performance is the relaxation. By the time they say ‘action’, I’ve been through those lines 500 times.
This is exactly how I see my writing process.
The rehearsal is the work and the performance is the relaxation
When I am drafting, I am in a continual state of rehearsal. Dissecting, questioning. Inventing new ways to test my story. Taking the characters for little rides outside the story. Digging for fundamental truth. I keep the writing rough while I chop the order of events around, concoct new scenes and drop them in. I always use my beat sheet. My current WIP, Life Form 3, got so darn difficult it needed its own tool, and so I rewrote it as a fairy tale.
Certainly this can be frustrating, particularly when the story is flagging, there are too many unknowns. There’s always a stage where I’m convinced I’ve ruined an exciting idea. That’s why it’s called work.
But what comes out of it is intensely creative.
Ready to roll
There comes a day when I feel I understand, with a big U, fanfares and fireworks. I know what the characters want in each scene, what they show other people, what they’re hiding. I know the character of the book – its world, its struggles, what voice it has. I am confident the reader’s heart rate will soar in the right places.
That’s when I’m ready to relax and tell the story properly – with the final, in-depth rewrite.
Final draft is the performance
Performance. You know what I mean. If you’re a writer you have an urge to perform in prose. You can’t just dash off an email to a friend, a comment on someone else’s blog, a report for work. Even a note to the milkman will always be a bit of a song and dance. Words are never just words, they are indelible. That’s what we really enjoy, right?
My final pass is the performance – the language, style, voice. With all the work I’ve done, I’m ready to grab hold of the reader and show them something special.
Part of the problem with revising is that you get stale. But if with each pass you are building something richer and better, it gets more exciting, not less. Crucial to this is to keep the text rough until everything is place. Then you can give yourself something to look forward to – telling the story. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
Are you a method writer? How do you motivate yourself through redrafts?
You can read more about my beat sheet and other revision tools in Nail Your Novel – Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, available from Amazon.com or outside the US from Lulu
Thank you, Tea, Two Sugars, for the picture