Sunday, 25 October 2009

All writing is rewriting

Read over your compositions and when you meet a passage that you think particularly fine, strike it out. Samuel Johnson.
I try to leave out the parts other people skip.
Elmore Leonard.

Writing anything can involve such a huge effort that many people feel they can't face the redraft. And yet without the redraft, have we really written anything at all? Professional writers talk a great deal about the number of drafts they have gone through. But this doesn't mean they have started all over again.(Although of course it might, as I did with a novel last year. More of that later.)

Without the intention and committment to redrafting, a writer is unlikely to move their writing to a more complete and professional footing, where it will attract the attention of the industry. So how should we engage with the rewriting process without feeling that we will never finish the work?

I thought the best way to answer this would be by outlining the process I went through with my forthcoming novel, HIDDEN. I wrote the first draft of the novel in six months, quite quickly really. But along the way I was part of a critique group who were giving me feedback on themes, chapters, character development, etc. I didn't write alone.

Once the first draft was completed I happened to meet an editor, Gill Evans, from Walker Books and also I was taken on by an agent. However, the novel was rejected by the editor, who gave me a page of suggestions for rewrites. But I had moved on to a second novel, my agent continued to submit HIDDEN and I didn't do the rewrites. At the end of the year the agent dropped out of the business. So I had no agent and no publisher. I felt lost. I also felt that my manuscript needed a thorough rewrite.
I spent the Christmas holidays struggling with the comments from Walker books, other critique feedback and re-reading books which I felt underpinned the voice I was looking for with my main character.

At the beginning of 2008 I started HIDDEN again, with a whole new, exciting voice which had emerged from all my thinking and reading and struggling. It was worth it. By the end of 2008 I had a new agent who had made very useful suggestions for rewrites and had begun submitting. The journey was not yet over but I felt I was on a more certain path.

In September 2009 I was signed by my new publisher, Meadowside Children's Books. So that's it you might think, no more rewriting. But no, the industry doesn't work like that. My new editor,Lucy Cuthew, had an excellent range of suggestions to improve the book and this is my work for the rest of this year.
How do I feel about yet more rewrites? I'm loving it.

So what am I doing? Correcting grammar and spelling? No, that's the job of the copy editor.

Rewriting involves a new engagement with the text, new inspiration, taking your mind on a walk down a new path, to see the chapters, passages, themes, in a new light. Rewriting is your chance to enrich your text or remove the unnecessary parts and create an even better book than the earlier draft.

Regard all of your writing as rewriting, right from the start. Don't be afraid of rewrites. Redrafting should be an enjoyable and exciting experience which takes you deeper into the world you have created. Your imagination gets another chance to take off and follow themes which perhaps got lost in earlier drafts.

Writing a novel is the marathon of the writing profession. We cannot expect to get it all down in even two or three goes. The more practice we have in rewriting, the easier it gets.


  1. Miriam,

    I came across your blog while writing a lecture for a beginning news writing class, and googled "All writing is rewriting." I loved your comments about about the importance of "doing drafts," and used them in my lecture (with attribution, of course :-).

    Best regards,

    Bruno F. Battistoli
    Adjunct Professor of Journalism
    Syracuse University

  2. Many thanks for your comment, Bruno and I'm glad that my blog helped with your class. Thanks also for attributing me. All the best with your work,


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