The joy of rewriting

Just came across this ode to rewriting from A L Kennedy of The Guardian. She wishes, as I do, that there were a more appetising word for what she describes as the “glorious” work involved in rewriting your prose.

No one can teach you how to write, or how you write or how you could write better – they can assist you in various areas, but the way that you learn how you write, the way you really improve, is by diving in and reworking, taking apart, breaking down, questioning, exploring, forgetting and losing and finding and remembering and generally testing your prose until it shows you what it needs to be, until you can see its nature and then help it to express itself as best you can under your current circumstances. This gives you – slowly – an understanding of how you use words on the page to say what you need to. And by making a mental commitment to believe that you are not as good as you could be, you allow yourself to move forward, to mature as writer.

I love what she says here. My experience is that rewriting is much more enjoyable – though incredibly difficult at times – than the process of piecing together the first-draft scenes, chapters, sections, what-have-you. Perhaps that’s because I’m trying to figure out what I want to say; I don’t have a perfectly formed vision in my head before I set pen to paper and fingers to keyboard. Or perhaps it’s because, coming from an editorial background, my natural preference is to work with “the whole” because I can see “the holes”. It’s probably a combination of the two. Once you’ve got something to work with, then you can start treating it like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, moving things around, removing and adding material, as it takes on – hopefully – its own shape and life.

There is such enormous pleasure to be had in knowing that you’ve produced your very best work. As Kennedy says,

Don’t mistake me: I’m not saying that my own attempts at better than best are the best, or everyone’s cup of tea, or anything other than a failure to live up to my hopes. But it seems only fair to do what we can for the reader.

Doing what we can: that’s what I’m hoping for in a holiday season of writing, as I have miles to go before I have the pleasure of rewriting. May all writers have a peaceful and productive holiday period.

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