A Forest Full Of Trees

This post, from Devon Monk, originally appeared on the Deadline Dames site on 7/20/09.

You’ve got an idea for a novel. You’ve worked on it in stops and starts ferverishly for a few years months, and the first draft is finally done! Congratulations, you’re a novelist! During your moments of deep depression coffee breaks on the veranda, you also researched agents and editors, and cruised web sites and blogs to scream in despair perfect your cover letter, synopsis, and outline skills.

But the thing that’s stopped you dead is getting the novel draft cleaned up for submission. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded rewrite.

Some writers don’t like to rewrite. Some writers don’t like to stop rewriting. Neither affliction is beneficial to a lasting career in this biz.

I see rewriting (or revising, if you prefer the term) as a very important tool in the writer’s tool box. When you are under contracted deadline and are asked to cut ten thousand words, or get rid of a character, or add more action, or slow down the scene, ore completely change a plot line, and it has to be fixed and beautiful and back in your editor’s hand in two weeks, baby, you’re gonna want a toolbox bristling with every rewriting trick in the book.

But how do you know what needs rewriting? You bled your soul into wrote the thing. You know all the back story, you know what the setting looks like, you know where the characters are running to and from and why.

But you may not have put any of that on the page in a way the reader can clearly see and experience it. Since you’re the author, your mind automatically fills in the missing bits with the info only you have. That’s a problem.

One way to address that problem is to shove your ego in a carpet bag and look at what you’ve written through the eyes of a reader.

Yes, you, the writer, stop being a writer for a second and look at your book as a reader. Print it out and sit down and read your book as if you just pulled it off the shelf. Read it out loud. If you trip over the sentences, likely the reader will too.

Another way to spot what needs rewriting is to critique other people’s work. Over on her blog, Ilona Andrews did a terrific series of line-by-line edits (and suggested rewrites) for opening scenes. Check it out. Read through what she thought should be changed, and why. Then look at your story and see if you can apply any of those principals to it.

Read the rest of the post, which includes an excellent 21-point revision checklist, on Deadline Dames.