Rewriting is the key to success

Writing, most of the time, is easy. At least for me. Rewriting is the hard part. And before I get a million virtual tomatoes aimed at my head, let me explain.

My background and training is print journalism. When your story has to be written in eight minutes so the press will start on time, you get it done. It won’t win the Pulitzer, and you might think lining bird cages is too good a fate for it, but it’s written. So when I’m switching gears to fiction, that’s the bar I try to clear – getting words on paper. Preferably in a coherent order, but in a pinch, I’ll let that slide. Sometimes the writing is good. Most often it’s OK. And every once in a while, Kyrie reads a piece and tells me she can’t start to edit because she can’t tell what the heck the point is.

That’s when the hard part kicks in — rewriting. One of my professors early on in j-school warned me about taking the easy way out. He said I had enough talent to skate through but I’d be shortchanging my opportunities to become really good if I didn’t always try to write and report better than I had before. He was right — and I did do a little bit of skating to get through because I just wanted to be in a real newsroom. Sometimes when I write fiction, I want to do the same thing. The temptation to say a story is good enough is always there. Fortunately, Kyrie doesn’t (usually) let me settle for that. On Thrown Out, the biggest story in my upcoming book, she added 2,500 words of comments, questions and suggestions to the 7,300 word version I gave her. That was after I’d done two passes of revisions and had some beta readers look at part or all of it. I’ve spent about 10 hours during the past two days rewriting the story to incorporate her comments. It’s now more than 10,000 words. And it’s a million times better than the draft I gave her Friday. (I also feel like my brain’s been put through the wringer — rewriting is definitely harder than writing.)

Once you have something on the page, you can work with it. Expand some sections, cut others. Carry an image or phrase through the piece. Refine language to create clear voices for all the characters. But you’ve got to get the words on the page first.

2 Comments on “Rewriting is the key to success”

  1. After more than 15 years in newsrooms, getting words on the page is fairly easy for me — I just turn off the internal editor and don’t worry about if they’re good or not. 🙂 Rewriting to me is more challenging, though I have the benefit of a fabulous editor who’s right there with me.

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