Well. Golly gee. Lookie what happened, today.
It’s been a while, but I finally was able to answer a query that’s been in my possession for the G and T Show‘s occasionally recurring “Ask Dayton” segment. I’ve had the question for awhile, but schedules and such kept me from getting to the poor thing.
What do we have this time around?
How do organize your rewrites from first draft to finished manuscript?
I can’t speak for other writers, but I lay my edits out in counterclockwise fashion.
Thanks for the question.
Okay, okay, okay.
I don’t know that I’d call my rewriting process “organized.” I’m not even sure I’d call it “sensible.” I suppose if I had to classify this part of the writing cycle, it’d slot in somewhere between “necessary evil” and “too scared to submit this festering pile of elephant shit to my editor for fear of having a contract put out on me.”
Here’s my deal: I tend to edit and rewrite “as I go.” Basically, I might play with a sentence even as I’m writing it, trying out different words or phrases, or reordering it so that it flows better after the preceding sentence, and so on. Once I get a paragraph or two, or maybe even a whole page put down, I go back over that section and make sure it’s the way I want it, then repeat that process for as many times as it takes to complete the novel. Sometimes I get on a tear and write for longer periods without spending a lot of time reworking things, but usually I end up revisiting that output before moving on.
The result of all these shenanigans is that when I finally get to “The End,” the manuscript is probably eighty or eighty-five percent of where I want it to be. Next, I do what I call a “polishing draft,” which along with a check of spelling and whatnot is where I verify that I didn’t leave any plot threads unresolved, and make sure I didn’t do anything stupid. You know, using a character killed in an earlier chapter, or turning a left-handed character right-handed, or flipping somebody’s gender, or whatever. Hey, goofy shit happens, sometimes.
What I don’t do is go over and over and over the manuscript multiple times, at least not before I deliver it to my editor. A writer I admire, Dean Wesley Smith, cautioned against that years ago, and it’s one of those bits of advice that’s stuck with me. Basically, he believed that all those rewrites usually served to drain the life or energy from whatever creative spark gave birth to the original story. Instead, he’s a big advocate of writing it, doing a quick edit, and calling it done. Over time, I adapted my process along those lines. Now, years later, I’m usually fairly confident that what I deliver to my editor is going to pass muster, and the notes I get back are almost always pretty minor.
It’s when I get the copyedited manuscript returned to me that I give the whole thing another, comprehensive read-through. At this point, it could be as much as two months since I last looked at the thing, so I’m able to bring fresh eyes to it. I also know that this is likely my last chance to make any major changes, so I take advantage of this window of time and fix things I’ve decided need revising all while addressing the copyeditor’s notes.
A month or so later, I’ll get the typeset manuscript, which is basically a PDF of what the final book will look like. This phase represents my last chance to make any sort of changes or fixes, and except for extreme circumstances those updates have to be very minor, like replacing a word choice or something similarly limited. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some wild rides, like finding out that the entire middle section of a book was nothing but blank pages, or that the page headers at random intervals change to show a different author or book title. Yep, those are real things that really happened.
I think they do shit like that as a test to check whether I’m actually reading the damned thing.
So, there you go. That’s my process, which I’ll grant you might come off as six or seven different flavors of fucked up in the minds of some people, but hey! It works for me. I’ve developed this approach over time as I’ve grown accustomed to writing pretty much everything on a deadline. I simply don’t have the luxury of torturing myself with a manuscript or dicking around with “writer’s block” while waiting to engage my “muse.” There are bills to pay, faces to feed, and other projects waiting in the queue, so I’ve learned to just get on with it and leave the second-guessing at the door.
I can’t say I’d recommend my method to anyone who’s just starting out, and still finding their way through the various twists, turns, and other weirdness to be confronted as one attempts to tame the written word. As with pretty much every other piece of writing advice out there, your mileage may vary.
Good luck, you glutton for punishment, you.
This question and its answer was read during G&T Show Episode #270 on March 12th, 2017. You can hear Nick read the answers each week by listening live, or check out the replay/download options when the episode is loaded to their website: The G and T Show. Listeners are also encouraged to send in their own questions, one of which will be sent to me each week for a future episode.
As always, thanks to Nick, Terry and Mike for continuing to include me in their little podcasting games.