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The (Sometimes) Joy of Rewriting

Just in time for Mercury Retrograde, I am launching into the first big rewrite of my novel.  (More on Mercury Retrograde in a moment.)

The background        

GreendoorPezenas

A green door in Pezenas, France. It's a doorway to rewriting, get it?

I started this particular novel last year in late September, and finished it almost a year later, on the last day of August.  By many standards, including mine, that is a slow pace for a first draft.  But there were entire months when I set it aside to work on other projects, so the entire time span of active writing was probably was more like eight months than twelve.

I got the idea for this novel in the shower one day in one of those Eureka moments.  When I started writing, in first person, the voice of the narrator came easily and naturally, much as what happened with my Emma Jean novel.  I love when this happens–you don't have to struggle with voice, it is just there. 

My writing group has been enthusiastic about the story, and responses from people who've read the first 50 pages of it in a MFA alumni writing workshop have been also.  And I already have a ton of ideas of scenes I need to add and ways to deepen certain characters. So, I'm excited to get on with the second draft.

The plan

Thus, I was even more excited when my wonderful client and friend Beverly pointed me towards this page on Rachael Herron's blog.  It presents a coherent, cohesive plan for rewriting.  And, I don't know about you, but in my writing life, coherent, cohesive plans for rewriting have been in short supply, witness this story from my MFA days:

I had finished the first draft of the book I lovingly call my MFA novel (It now resides in a cupboard and will likely never see the light of day) and was ready to rewrite it.  So I asked my MFA mentor, an accomplished novelist, writing teacher, and world traveler (who shall remain nameless only because what follows might sound like I'm dissing her and I don't want anybody to think that because she was amazing) how to go about it.  

"I'll tell you how to do that," she said, tossing her long, thick, red hair.

I leaned forward, excited for more of her words of wisdom.

"You sit in your favorite easy chair and read your novel as if you're reading a book from the bookstore."

I waited.  Then I waited some more.  Being too in awe of her to squawk, "that's it?" I waited longer.  

Finally she broke the painful silence.  "Then you will find a way in."  And she bestowed a smile on me.

So, um, you can see why I'm thrilled that plans for rewriting the novel exist.  And, lord have mercy, said plans involve buying office supplies, like post-it notes! A three-ring binder! 3-hole punched paper! Washi tape!  (Okay, the washi tape wasn't strictly necessary, but how could I resist it?)  I'm in the process of printing out my novel and have already begun following the first part of the plan.

Oh, and today, in my internet travels, I ran across this post from the always helpful Janice Hardy about rewriting.  It's worth a read, also.

Iphone6Paris

A giant ad for the Iphone 6 on an historic building in Paris.

The timing 

And now we come to the part about Mercury Retrograde.  Three times a year, the planet Mercury essentially goes backward.  (Don't ask how, just accept, okay?) Most people intone the words Mercury Retrograde with the same dire tones they use to say black plague, or these days, Ebola virus. Communications go haywire, and technology goes bust.  (Don't even think of buying a new computer or phone during one of these periods.  And whatever you do, don't sign a contract.)  Travel plans tend to go awry.  Fun and games, people, fun and games.

But.

There's always a but, and this is a big one.  At the same time all the above-mentioned crazy stuff is occurring, there's something else afoot–and that is that anything that has the prefix "re" attached to it will be a good activity for you.  So, reorganizing, remembering, renewing, or, ahem, rewriting.  Yes, Mercury Retrograde is the perfect time to return to something you've been working on and a good chance to look at it with new eyes.  So there.  I've just given you reason not to dread Mercury Retrograde.  Just don't get tempted by those new Iphone 6s.  

How do you approach rewriting?

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Rewriting: Its All in the Plan

Facing a rewrite can be difficult, if not downright daunting.

You've written a draft (or two, or three), gotten feedback, and now you're ready to make the changes in your manuscript.  So you open the file on your computer….and sit there and stare at the words on the page.

Let's admit it, sometimes confronting a manuscript page that needs rewriting can be as dreadful as facing a blank computer monitor.  How to make room in all those words for what you need to do?  What to cut?  What to add?  Where to begin?  Wouldn't it just be easier to shut down the computer?

What I've found is that I can just discover a way into the work, everything else will follow.  And often I end up tricking myself in order to find that way in.  So here's how I do it:

1.  First, I ponder.  I review the critiques I've gotten or the notes I've taken.  Sometimes I do this the night before I know I'm going to work on my novel in order to give my subconscious time to play around with the ideas.

2.  Second, I insert.  This is where the tricking myself begins.  I open the file and tell myself that all I'm going to do is insert notes–in all caps–places where I am going to make changes.  Then I go through the entire chapter and insert away.  This is not difficult because I already have the notes.

3.  Third, I rewrite.  By now I've reviewed and inserted and not only do I have a good idea what I'm going to change, I know where I'm going to change it.  The notes are all in place, ready for me to roll with.  And best of all, I can open the file and start anytime, knowing that I've marked up the manuscript and I know what I need to do.

I think its the not knowing how to proceed that stops me.  So I try to find ways to know ahead of time how I'm going to proceed.  It works for me.  By following this plan I'm generally able to convince myself to hop right to a rewrite.

Note I said generally, not always.  But I'll take whatever I can get.

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