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It’s Not What You Write, It’s What You Rewrite

July 7, 2013

Yesterday I spent five hours revising my new novel, “The Coffin Haulers.” I got exactly two pages done, an embarrassing amount of work for the time I put in.

Here’s why: A friend read the first draft and objected to the sentence, Joey sat back and thought: I got a hard-on for nothing. It was in a scene where private detective Joey Boloccini thinks he’s uncovered evidence in a murder case. He’s excited beyond belief because it’s the first real evidence he’s gotten. It turns out to be worthless.

The objection was to the word hard-on. It doesn’t fit, my friend said. It’s flippant. Joey is devastated because the evidence doesn’t amount to anything and he’d be more serious at that moment.

And so I changed it to the more sedate I got excited for nothing. But as I re-read the scene I realized that all of it was wrong. The whole damned scene, out of character for Joey and illogical in terms of the plot.

And this was the fifth rewrite I was working on.

When I do each revision I look for different things: characters that need more development, characters I can get rid of because they’re not essential to the story, plot devices, story logic, etc. But I should have caught the faults in this particular scene earlier because they were so obvioius. At least they should have been, two rewrites ago.

Rewriting is the key to writing: I can’t remember when I first heard or read that, but it’s true and I’ve always told my writer friends the same thing. While doing the first, or even second or third, draft, I’ll write something that gets me so excited that I marvel at my superior abilities as a writer. I compliment myself over and over, I celebrate my literary skill with a glass of ale.

And then a day or two later I re-read it and, like Joey, I sit back and think: I got a hard-on for nothing.

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