Stupid rewriting tricks

So here’s a thing I’ve learned lately – rewriting is hard. Maybe harder than actually writing something in the first place.

When you’re writing  you’re trying to create something from nothing, which sounds hard but is actually easy – if you write anything at all you’ve basically succeeded. Rewriting, on the other hand, is about trying to make that first effort better – so the bar has been set higher and now you need to do more to clear it than just whacking the keyboard with your exhausted face.

I mean, that’s not how I wrote the first draft of Raven’s Blood. Honest.

…anyway, as I struggle through the process of revising the foundation draft – which is taking more time/effort than I had hoped, so there’s not much chance of finishing it by the end of August – I’ve stumbled across a few tricks, shortcuts and principles that have made the process a bit faster and simpler, which is great because I’m busy and also really lazy.

So if you’re neck-deep in rewrites and reader notes, consider these easy ways to reduce the workload:

Automatically uncover your weaknesses

There are a variety of free online tools that will take your raw copy-pasted text and analyse it six ways from Sunday, calculating everything from lexical density and language/reading level to a simple number-of-times-you-said-BLAH count. Dump your text into one of these sites – such as this one or this one – and you’ll get back a breakdown of how often you used specific words and phrases. Now you can go through your MS and mix things up on the rewrite, making sure you don’t say ‘and the vicar unbuttoned his trousers’ on six separate occasions.

The freedom of the blank page

When you’re trying to fit new writing into old writing, or replace what has gone before, the existing text can feel more like a prison or a stern matron than a welcoming home for your precious story. I found that writing the new text into a new, blank document, then copy-pasting it back into the old one, made me feel a lot less constrained by what I’d written earlier, even if I was switching back and forth between the pages every 30 seconds. Sure, once you’ve pasted in the new text you’ll need to do some tweaking to link it all up, but that’s (possibly) easier than trying to steer it towards the target from word one.

Gerund hunt

A gerund, for those of you who aren’t grammar tragics, is a verb that’s been converted to a noun by adding ‘ing’ to the end. Gerunds have their place, but they can turn prose flatter and less engaging because your active verbs – I run, I write, I defenestrate – get replaced by phrases with dull positioning or identity verbs – they were writing, he was writing, I am defenestrating. To revitalise your draft, do a search for ‘ing’ chapter by chapter and check every instance; when you find gerunds bringing down the energy levels, rewrite them back into active verbs.

No beginnings, only endings

One of my alpha readers opened my eyes to this – it’s boring when things ‘start’ or ‘begin’ to happen. Make them happen now! Don’t pad out the time, go straight to the action. As before, do a word search for the offenders, then rewrite to boost the energy. (You may also find, like I did, an unsuspected propensity to use ‘start’ as a noun, as in she awoke with a start. Consider whether this is actually the word you want. It’s kinda boring as a noun too.)

Let it go

Real talk: you are never going to write a final draft, a best draft. You will always find something you want to change and improve every time you look at your work, because you grow and change as an author every day. So you have to let it go, like the Disney Corporation says. That doesn’t mean you don’t work as hard as you can to make every draft better than the last, to be as good as you can manage right now – but the urge to make this draft PERFECT FOR ALL TIME is what will stop you from ever finishing your work. Draw a line. Very good is good enough. Let it go.

That last one is the hard one. It’s been kicking me around.

So yes, finishing this month? Not going to happen, not with the Melbourne Writers Festival – now with a genre writing stream! – starting in a couple of days and a bout of minor knee surgery knocking me out immediately afterwards.

The new target is GenreCon, which is at the end of October. If you see me there – and you should come, it’ll be awesome – feel free to bail me up and demand proof that I’ve finished the

One thought on “Stupid rewriting tricks

  1. Bashing-out a first draft can be a lot of fun. But, whatever way I look at it, editing and rewriting your own writing is _hard_ work.
    Your note on “start” as a noun reminds me — I use a kill-list. Certain words or figures of speech pop-up too often. When I see one of those words, I remind myself it’s not a distinctive character shining through; it’s author’s voice being lazy. Search and delete.

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