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Painless? Hints for Re-writing.
When is it finished?
The question was posed in my writing group a while back, how long do you keep re-writing before you give up? More importantly, how do you know if it’s finished? The simple answer for most writers is probably ‘it is never finished.’ (Very few writers will admit that they couldn’t find tiny flaws in their writing if they wanted to) Here are a couple hints that the story is close enough for all intents and purposes.
First, what do others think? Find a trusted reader who will honestly critique the story, and have them read it. If they struggle to find things that need improvement, the story is close.
Next, look at the changes that are being made. Is it a few words here or there, or are major sections being added or cut? Once you can read the work a couple times through without making major changes, you are probably close enough for all intensive purposes.
Everyone has a different idea of finished or perfect. For some of us it comes sooner than others, but it seldom comes easy. The key is to find that point where it is close enough.
For some writers the act of re-writing is the bane of their existence. For most of us, it is an absolute necessity. There are very few writers that can get away without some re-writing, and while the process of re-writing can be an adventure, for some of us, this is not the case. Here are a couple hints that may make the re-writing process more effective, and perhaps a bit less painful. These tips are given from the point of view of a fiction writer, but they should help the non-fiction writer as well.
The first tip, read your story backwards. If you have a hard copy, start from the last page and read one page at a time till you get back to the front. If you are working on the computer, read one screen at a time beginning at the end and moving toward the beginning.
When reading from the beginning to the end of a story it is easy to get involved in the story and miss grammar and spelling errors (sorry folks spell check is far from perfect). It is also easy to miss tense and voice issues such as passive verses active voice, past or present tense. Reading a story from the back to the front will aid writers in finding these types of issues.
The second tip, writing is like a fine wine, allow your story to age (put it away for a while). Allowing your writing to age gives the writer time to forget how great the words sounded when they were first put on paper (or into the computer). This helps the writer ensure that the words still sound good when the writer becomes the reader. It also allows the writer to find elements crucial to the story that never made it onto the page and fill them in. Also, like reading your story backwards, forgetting can aid the writer in seeing grammar, spelling and tense or voice issues. Giving your story time to age gives the writer a fresh perspective on the story allowing them to see flaws in the plot that may have slipped past them the first time.
How long a piece needs to age depends on the writer, and the piece. Some pieces require only a few days while other pieces may require months or years to reach their prime. Some writers may use this as an excuse to procrastinate, taking time off from their writing, but working on other projects during the aging process keeps the mind functioning and may allow the writer to discover even better ways of expressing the ideas in the story that is aging. Put the piece away, but not the pen!
The rewriting process is one that usually requires patience. Some writers consider it the bane of their existence. While reading the story backwards is time consuming it will reveal a different set of issues to the writer than reading the story start to finish. Likewise the aging process is time consuming, but the act of forgetting may not be a bad thing in this case. My experience has been that both processes can yield a much cleaner piece of writing when used properly and consistently.