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You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You build your house just to knock it down and rebuild it again, bigger and better

You’ve finished your rough draft. It might be 20,000 words, it might be 50,000 words, it might have taken you four weeks, might have taken you months, it makes you want to lament the loss of your lifelong dream to become a writer because it’s awful. So far away from the sparkly, polished prose of your favourite authors; a primitive ancestor who shouldn’t see the light of day. No fear. Don’t bin it, don’t stuff it in a dusty drawer, almost every author who has ever existed has at some time been in the same situation. The difference: they rewrite.

‘Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten,’ said Micheal Crichton. Louis Sacher says he did not become a good writer until he learned how to rewrite (both these inspirational quotes about rewriting plus more can be found here: http://www.brainyquote.com). Be prepared to work, be prepared to bare your soul, be prepared to be baptised by fire. Be prepared for the rewrite. This is where you build your house, only to knock it down, just to rebuild it again. Sounds crazy? It is. And it isn’t.

I find that after completing the rough draft, I  have connected with my book. I expect to have the foundation of the story, a skeleton which now needs to be fleshed out. Think of the rewrite as putting the internal organs in place, the lungs, the liver, the heart particularly; the aim is to identify the heartbeat of your book, the rhythm of the narrative, the arcs and peaks of the developing plot lines: beginning, middle and end find their places in the sequence of things. At this stage I don’t worry too much about grammar and punctuation, vocabulary and technique, I try to get it right as much as I can during every draft, but it isn’t my main concern when I’m rewriting; more important to know what I want to say and find the best way to say it.

The rewrite is about fleshing out what has already been written, changing and improving along the way. I always begin by asking myself: What can I do to make the book better? I write a list, it will be different for each project because each book needs different things, but the basics are the same: conflict, jeopardy, character development, extra research, what needs to be removed, what needs to be changed and/or developed…Then I go through the list making the necessary adjustments. The purpose of this stage is to have a solid story foundation – is the pace right? Is the narrative engaging? Would I be better starting with Chapter 3 rather than Chapter 1? Should I cut out a particular character altogether because they aren’t bringing anything to the table? What is it I really want to say (or more likely, what is it my hero/bad guy really wants to say?). It’s a matter of sensing what needs to be strengthened, removed, altered, and having the motivation, determination and commitment to address the issues.

Check out this article by Matt Salesses for some great advice: http://necessaryfiction.com/writerinres/AMonthofRevision and remember, it may seem like a lot of unnecessary work, writing, rewriting, etc. But the more drafts you work on, the better your story will become. I know my writing will never be perfect, but it is something I am happy to put my name too, and that is surely the best outcome.

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However tempting, don't bin the rough draft. It can be polished.

However tempting, don’t bin the rough draft. It can be polished

Every writer has their own process for creating a novel. I thought it might be interesting  – for me, at least – to analyse the way I construct my manuscripts and what better place to start than at the beginning. So, wa-hey, here comes the Rough Draft.

I began NaNoWriMo in 2006 hoping to develop discipline. I wanted to be a writer from the age of five. Two decades later and I still had not completed an initial draft, let alone a finished manuscript. As it happens, I did get into the habit of writing everyday, making the time because it was important enough to me, adding to my word count, not worrying too much about the technical side of writing but just getting the initial plot down. What was the story? What did I want to say? More importantly, what did my characters want to say? Having the encouragement which comes from being a part of a community of like-minded wordsmiths gave me the motivation to complete my first ever first draft.

It quickly became clear the best way to complete the task of writing a 50,000 word rough draft in four weeks was by getting my butt down on the chair and letting my fingers fly across the keyboard in any manner they wished. I was surprised at the end to find actual, real words and these mutated into proper sentences that basically made sense. It wasn’t the best looking piece of work but it was a workable rough draft and one which proved I had it in me. So no more excuses. If I had achieved it once, I knew I could achieve it again.

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

A simple mind map can help you stay focused

I don’t plan first, my rough draft becomes a detailed outline, but I do always begin with an idea of the direction I want to move in. For example, for my second novel, my work in progress The Obsidian, I knew I wanted an abandoned hotel to feature, I wanted a strong Art Deco, 1920’s/1930’s theme, and I wanted to extend on a subject which arose in the first book Affliction. I started with a basic mind or cluster map where you take a main word and add branches of ideas, extending on these. They could be genres, movies perhaps that deal with a similar subject, or that I feel have something about them I connect with, themes, quotes, anything that gets the creativity flowing and gives you a simple map to navigate through what is going to be challenging terrain. A useful online mind mapping tool can be found here https://bubbl.us/.

Another useful hint for the rough draft, I picked up whilst watching a TV show about the author Ian Rankin, was to put anything I didn’t know the details for [in square brackets]. I use this a lot during the rough draft process: for names of characters I’ve yet to decide on; descriptions I need to flesh out; research I have yet to do. It allows me to write without losing the flow, my thoughts aren’t given a chance to get waylaid or interrupted.

Finally, it doesn’t matter how grotesque that rough draft is  – and it will be grotesque – I have forced myself not to scrap it. It’s an ugly duckling that with time and effort could become something of beauty (something less ugly at least). Without a rough draft, you have nothing to rewrite. But that’s a story for another time.


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Filed under Art of Writing, The Writing Process