Thursday, February 16, 2012

Novel: Writing is Rewriting

Woman pulling out hair

How many times have we heard writers complain about the quality of their first drafts (i.e. doodoo)? Many would see them buried, and many have indeed buried them and moved on to other endeavors. Most people who get started on writing don't realize how much goes into revising once a first draft is completed. I certainly was one of them. No matter how much you pre-plan, you will still find that the completed first draft of a book is either too thin or, most often, too long and laden with excessive descriptions. It was Stephen King who said in his book, On Writing, that the second draft is the first draft minus ten percent. Learning to rewrite with economy of words is the first step, but my question is, how long should the process of revision take?

What I found out is this: there are no steadfast rules. There are no time frames. There are only opinions, and a lot of them. What everyone unanimously seems to agree on is that once a first draft is completed, a "cool down" period ought to follow before revisions begin. Some go as far as suggesting a couple of months repose. A couple of months?? I think I'd feel so disconnected from my writing by that point that I'd lose any of the original creative momentum it took to write the initial draft. In his blog, literary agent Scott Eagon suggests something far more reasonable, but one thing we can rest assured of is this: there exist no rules.

My two cents? It takes as long to revise a book as it does to write it. If it takes, say, four months to write a novel, then it would take roughly that long to revise it. If it took one year to write it, then it would take a year to revise it. Pretty simple, right? Rewriting is an art in by itself, a much finer one at that, one were sentences are entirely re-arranged for effect. Where the music and cadence of words and lines are honed and tuned. In his book, Revision and Self-Editing, James Scott Bell says you write hot and revise cold. And if there is a lot of garbage and improper grammar usage during these hot moments, don't worry, because you'll be spending plenty of time in that editing freezer.

I just completed my first draft and am in the process of revising it right now, so I've yet to see if my time theory on revising holds, but if it does, I'll be sure to update this blog!

I'd love to hear any opinions on the subject and see just how far off I might be… how long does revising a novel take? And how long should one allow for a cool-down period after completing the first draft?

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