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October, 2015

Rewriting and Editing Part 1

by Webmaster

I wrote a novel. I was sick for several weeks and bored with TV, so I wrote a novel.

I let some friends read it, hoping for the kind of critical feedback that I get from songwriters meetings. All I heard was, "Send more chapters!" I thought I wrote the Great American Novel. One friend sent me feedback on some typos and gave me some suggestions for minor changes, but said she loved the book and wanted to read it again. After hearing about my critical success, another friend suggested I send my novel in to a contest for unpublished first novels.

I let several months go by, then set aside the time go through the book again to apply changes that were suggested and fix typos and some format errors. I surprised myself by taking two weeks to do a fairly extensive revision. The plot and characters are all the same, but the language needed to be changed. It read like a first draft.

"Like poems, the best country songs are short and powerful. When you've got so few words to deliver the emotional punch, each word must be laden with meaning." — Elaine Glusac

I've been writing a long time, and was once an English teacher. I spend a lot of time crafting songs and poems, analyzing every word. How unbelievably narcissistic I was to believe my first draft would just need to have a few typos corrected. In addition to rewriting entire paragraphs, I did more reformatting and researched some names and details, which spawned more changes.

"Ezra Pound believed that each line was a minor component of the poem and must be tested for its authority and rightful place. He advocated a line-by-line examination; after the poet is certain that he has accomplished his purpose, he should move to the top of the poem and remove the first line. If the music or meaning of the poem isn't altered, that line has no place and must be deleted. Then the weight of the second line is judged, and again, if it doesn't alter the music or meaning, it has no place. Line by line, the poem is trimmed of excess fat so its essence is distilled." —Keith Flynn

I let it sit for a week and thought about it. I decided I needed to do another edit, and gave myself a week. I worked on it for 5.5 days and put in close to 70 hours. I had just enough time to put it into the format for submission to the contest. While combining my 62 separate documents (one for each chapter) into one document, I fixed more typos and formatting errors.

"Songs ain't novels. You don't have 30 pages to slowly wrap somebody in. They're more like short stories or poems. If the first line hasn't grabbed them, you won't get to the second line." — Dan Bern

Recently I spoke with a few women about writing. One said, “I was a great writer when I was in school. But I stopped writing because of all the red corrections. I just don't see any use for all those punctuation and grammar rules.”

"Few writers achieve literary magic with their first drafts. Ernest Hemingway once told an interviewer, 'I rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.' Award-winning poet Donald Hall has been known to take a single poem through 150 drafts before he considers it publishable. The 'magic' of writing often emerges during the editorial process." — The Writer, September 2007

Since then, I found a checklist of writing mistakes for authors. My novel has been submitted, but I want to edit it again, using the checklist. There will be more contests or publishing opportunities. I want to take the time, the same kind of time I take with songs and poems, to write my novel well.

"With a song, it only takes a couple of minutes to go back to the beginning and try it again to see if it works. The novel freaks me out because, what if you get into the eighth chapter and think, ‘Let’s go to the top and see if this works again? It’s going to take me three weeks.’ I’m in awe of that." — Ben Folds

A novel is not as easy to perfect as a song or poem. My most successful song has almost 200 words. My novel has over 122,000 words. It's a lot easier to study each word in a song or a poem than in a novel.

But, it's every bit as important in both formats.

See next month's column, "Rewriting and Editing, Part 2," for editing tips.

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