Michael Haskins

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Editing is less frightening than rewriting, so edit more often . . .

It seems that last week* most everyone was concerned about rewriting. A necessary evil, I agree, but there are different ways to approach it. I haven’t figured out how to avoid rewriting (other than being perfect and I leave that to those few who are) but I have, over the years, avoided what, I believe, Mike* called a major rewrite.

I am a slow writer. On very good days, I do more than a thousand words, other days two hundred. I average in between those numbers. And then there are days that the blank screen is more than I can stand and write nothing new. Writer’s block? Naw. Laziness, maybe. What it usually proves to be is that I subconsciously have a problem with something I’ve written and don’t know it, yet. My subconscious has concerns I just haven’t caught up with.

Every morning before starting from where I left off, I reread what I wrote the day before. It is amazing how often I find a typo (Spell check you say? I must have fooled it!) or an incomplete thought. Always something. I go about fixing it. That’s my first, short form of rewriting but I like to call it editing.

So, the day arrives and I can not move forward. I go back to the beginning and start to read. Along the way, I often realize what I had in mind when I wrote the early chapter doesn’t happen, or happens differently than I thought later on in the story. Or, something in later chapter happens that needs to be explained or foreshadowed in an earlier chapter. I go back and I correct the problem and, I guess, you’d call it rewriting. I like to think of it as editing.

I am on the fourth book in my Mick Murphy Key West Mystery series. In my third book I began using Saturday morning to reread everything I’ve written that week. There is always something wrong or in need of correction. I rewrite it or edit it, whatever. I am continuing that in the new book.

It is amazing how often I make changes in early chapters because I now know what’s a head! And then . . . well, let me tell you about how the ending of my second book, Free Range Institution, came about.

I am at the end, almost 400 pages, and I realize the killings needed to save Mad Mick can’t happen the way I first thought, the way I planned 400 pages ago. After everything that had happened in the story it wasn’t a realistic ending and I didn’t want an ending that didn’t ring true or at least plausible just to end. I smoked a cigar (outside) and maybe sipped some of God’s nectar (Jameson on the rocks) and came up with nothing. I went back inside and began reading from chapter one. It was a late night and I had better things to do, but I read.

Before I was half way through, I found a chapter where four of my characters talked around a kitchen table and the discussion led to killing. (You know I am not going to tell you the whole story because you’d know the ending and wouldn’t buy my book! Hell, I wouldn’t buy a book I knew the ending to before I’d read it.)

Back to the topic, as soon as I finished reading that chapter (maybe even before, but I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging) I knew what the ending had to be! Somewhere in the dark, deep recesses of my weary brain I had foreshadowed the ending without even knowing it earlier in the story! I went to the last chapter and with an adrenaline rush of pride and satisfaction, I wrote the ending and still made it to the Hog’s Breath to hear the Carter Brother’s band and Schooner Wharf before last call! It was the only way I could think to thank my brain, there ain’t no doggy treats for the brain. There should be.

Anyway, I handle the rewriting and editing together. It saves me from any major rewriting after I’ve finished. It’s been that way so far and I hope it continues. I think of it more as editing because so much of what I correct or add is small – a sentence or paragraph. Rewriting is a scary thought after you’ve put down 90,000 words.

I should end by saying after I’m done the manuscript goes into the draw for a month and then I go through it again and do more editing. I also let a few friends and/or experts read it for corrections and Jim Linder, retired military intelligence, corrects my mistakes with drug smugglers, boats, airplanes and weapons.

I call it editing because if I wanted to be scared I’d read more Steven King novels!

Do you have a trick to make rewriting easier? Share it, please, share it!

*To fully understand this blog, you have to read www.writeonthewater.com. This is a blog by writers who live or have lived on a boat. I am, on occasion, a guest blogger and this blog appeared on writeonthewater.com on Sept. 14, 2010. If you are a writer, a wannabe writer or interested in boating, check the blog out.

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