Saturday, 1 June 2013

Rewriting, and the art of finishing...

Quiet day all round yesterday, so I've had time to think over some ideas and this one came out on top:

One of the best moments in writing is when what started out as a vague idea becomes a finished story; a feeling which lasts maybe an hour before you realize that what you have isn't really a finished story but a first draft. If it's ever going to be publishable you are going to have to do some rewriting. That is you will have to polish, tweak, expand, cut, and proofread for all the spelling and grammar errors, and those places where your brain is too far ahead of your fingers and bits of sentences are missing (yes really, I've gone back over a piece of writing and found I've literally skipped over half a dozen words or completely changed the tense of a sentences halfway through.

Proofreading is the most tedious and grinding of those activities and its tempting to just give your work a cursory once over and let it slide. This can be costly to the author both in terms of reputation and cold hard cash. When I've gone browsing through the Kindle section at Amazon looking to get some hints about how to maximize the chances of success with own stuff the one complaint from people who've commented that appears time and again is; 'would have given it a higher score but for the terrible spelling grammar'. Now bearing in mind that unless your an author people are going look for by name your chances of selling a book on Amazon are probably going to come down to people scanning through hundreds of choices and deciding to stop and give your title 30 seconds to wow them. If you have a mediocre star rating(or a dull cover for that matter) you aren't going to even get that thirty seconds.

Now having just explained why rewriting is important there is one other thing to remember; and that is that you have to know when to stop. Allow me to illustrate with a sad tale of rewrites run amok. After my attempted novel 'Thermopylae Star' and long before the writing group and 'Pioneer War' there was 'Garrison'. The plan was that with Garrison I would take on board the advice I had gotten from Baen Publishing about Thermopylae Star(as mentioned in a previous blog) and apply it to a fresh new idea. Now being a lot less disciplined about making time for writing, and lacking the helpful mobile gadgets I have now, it was something of a slog to complete that first draft and I was probably getting a little stale by the time it was finished, this I think laid the groundwork for the problems when it came to rewriting.

Putting the first draft aside for a while to try and freshen it up I actually spent a lot of time thinking about it; it would have been far better to work on something completely unrelated instead (One of the reasons why I have Pioneer War and Fourth Planet Problem on the go at the same time; it allows to switch back and forth and keep things interesting). Just to compound the problem I had also failed to find anyone to give the first draft a once over and give me some feedback. That was the product of my being more than a little paranoid and frankly scared about what others might say about my work.

The practical upshot of this was that there was nothing to act as a brake when I started to try and apply all the changes to the original that had come to mind; and by changes I mean ripping up the entire arc of one of the main characters and replacing it. That meant that a third of the original manuscript was trashed and there other less drastic changes that still meant some sections had to be drastically altered with a huge amount of new, and slow, writing to be done. Working in a vacuum I never stopped to ask what now seems the obvious question; was I improving the quality of what I had already written or just changing it because the new ideas were fresher and less familiar?

The answer for 'Garrison' turned out to be the latter; what I ended with was a draft that was less coherent than the original and I simply had no willpower to try and turn it into something workable. It was a debacle but as they lie to say after every disaster; 'lessons have been learned'.

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