Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Continuous Rewriting

Every person has a favourite aspect when writing. For me it is the development of an interesting plot and strong characters. Most of this happens during the first draft, at least for me anyway. So how do you maintain enjoyment in writing once your favourite bit is done and you’re left with the grammar and the dreaded rewrite?

Well, there are, as always, many ways to do this, but this article will focus on one:  Continuous Rewriting.
As the name suggests, this is where you rewrite your piece continually throughout the writing process. I don’t promise that it will always involve your favourite aspect of writing, but that isn’t what the method is for. The intention is through continuous rewriting you never have to go too long without being able to go back to your favourite aspect of writing.

I know I’m famous for plugging my work in these articles, but in this case I have to. Yesterday I completed a five-day tidy up on my novel. In the past this would have consisted of me going through sorting out the commas and referring to the reviews I have received. But this time it was different. I did more than just correct my mistakes, I added bits in. I did a proper rewrite of the chapters. Normally rewrites happen after the first draft is complete, but I know that once I complete the first draft I am going to be reluctant to go through and rewrite it.

The beauty of continuous rewriting is that consistency errors are a thing of the past. You write something in chapter five and you can go back and hint at it in chapter three. Or perhaps you add something in chapter one and you develop it in chapter four. Had you been forcing yourself to plod onwards with a plot you knew you were going to change then your rewrite would be a long and arduous process. Now your first draft will be the plot you want and the write will mainly be making what you have written clearer and more engaging.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be called a first draft anymore; after all a first draft is often said to be the basic shape and outline of your story. With continuous rewriting your ‘first draft’ will be a filled out, full story that’s a bit rough around the edges. You could view the traditional first draft as a photo of a squiggly circle and a continuously rewritten first draft as a fuzzy photo of a complete statue – complete, just not very clear.

OK, some people may still not get what I’m saying, I don’t know, so I’ll use a real life example:

I was writing the start of chapter five of The Magician’s Tattoo when I realised that gagging and tying one of the main characters to a chair was not the best way to go about things. I could’ve continued and worked my way out of the mess by having him escape, but why bother? So I re-wrote the start of the chapter to a new, less awkward of containment. This gave me an additional issue; I had to get the character to identify where he was and who had taken him there. I put some initials on one of the walls that he would recognise but then yet another issue occurred. It was important that the reader knew what those initials were, so I went back to chapter three and added them in there.

Whilst over at chapter three I noticed a few consistency errors so I read through the chapter and corrected them. Half way through the chapter I realised I was no longer correcting anything and I had actually added two-hundred words to the story introducing two new plot elements and a twist. At this point I thought that it would be fun for the reader if they could pick up on a few of these things in the first two chapters without realising their significance.

Guess what? I went to chapter one and added a few bits in and started correcting the consistency errors my chapter three edit had made. Then I rewrote a whole page’s worth of story, adding depth to the characters. It was this point I realised what I was doing. I was rewriting my novel before I’d even reached the end.
After five days’ worth of work I had edited, rewritten and improved the first four chapters, added depth to the plot and filled in that shell of a story I originally had. Now, I’m on chapter five and am constantly editing and rewriting on the fly.

The best bit about this method is that the rewriting consists of both editing my work and developing the plot creatively. Another fantastic thing is that it works perfectly with my organic plotting method outlined in a previous article. I don’t have a plan in written form when I write as it prevents me working creatively, so being able to go back and add bits on the fly is really useful.

My guess is that most people do this method to some extent, but only when you realise that you are doing it can you maximise its full potential. Say goodbye to long rewrites and hello to fun writing all the to the very end.

Hope this helps,

Matt B

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