By Andrea Merrell
My husband cringes whenever I say, “Let’s move the furniture.” This is especially true during the holidays as we try to make room for the Christmas tree. He expects me to know exactly where to place each piece of furniture so he only has to move it once. All you men are probably thinking, “Amen, sister,” while most of you ladies can relate to my dilemma.
The truth: I have an idea in my head where things should be placed.
The problem: Once it gets there, it just doesn’t fit the overall plan.
Writing is much the same as rearranging the furniture, especially if your method is SOP (seat-of-the-pants). Once you get your words out of your head and in front of your eyes, what made sense before, doesn’t make sense now. That’s when the work really begins.
I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating. In the movie Finding Forrester, Sean Connery’s character (a famous author who has become a recluse) gives this advice to an aspiring young writer: “No thinking. That comes later. You write your first draft … with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is … to write, not to think.”
Great advice, but now let’s talk about the second key to writing: to think.
Once you have your words on paper or safely tucked away in your computer, it’s time to start the editing/proofreading/rewriting process. When you go back over your material and read it aloud, you’ll get a better feel for syntax and sentence structure. There needs to be a natural flow to your story and things need to be in chronological order.
Changes are inevitable. It might be something as simple as moving a speaker beat to shifting an entire scene to another chapter. Maybe you have a paragraph that does not move the story forward and needs to be deleted. In that case, open a separate Word doc, title it something like “Extra Passages,” then copy and paste what you are deleting. This way, you don’t lose anything valuable. You might want to use it later. If it doesn’t work in this book, it might be material for the next. Don’t waste a single word, thought, or idea.
Rewriting is also like remodeling a house. It’s easier to build a house from the ground/up, but sometimes the initial structure is beautiful and sound—it just needs to be made a little better by some important and well-thought-out additions.
Don’t let the process derail you. It’s a natural part of the writer’s life. If you’re having trouble, call on your critique group or a trusted writing buddy. Take a break (hours, days, maybe even a few weeks) then come back to your project. You’ll have a whole new perspective and possibly a fresh batch of ideas. Whatever you do, keep working and rewriting until your manuscript is clean, professional, and ready to launch into cyberspace.
(Photos courtesy of moneypit.com and screencraft.org.)