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  • jrblackburnsmith

Pardon my Re-write

Someone much smarter and more articulate than me once said "Writing is re-writing." Someone else said "Revising is drudgery." (Okay, that may have been me.) I learned long ago that I cannot revise while I write; I never get beyond that first chapter, page, or paragraph. It's not so much that I'm a perfectionist as what the act of revision is for me. Revision is re-writing. It's much less about grammar or the words on the page than it is about the flow of the story, character development and continuity, planting seeds of ideas and actions that occur later in the narrative. And I can't do any of that until I'm satisfied that I understand the narrative arc of the story. Does this text bend towards justice or despair?

One tool I've learned is to disaggregate character threads into individual booklets. This is a great way to make sure a single character is fully developed and consistent within themselves, especially if you like to write from multiple points of view. So, if I have three primary character narrative points of view, I will pull that draft apart into three separate texts and revise each character individually. It's a great help in making sure that if a character is left-handed on page one, they are left- handed on page 263. It also gives me a cleaner line of sight to how the characters cross over into each other's threads.

I also find that when I revise, I am better able to think about a single scene in relation to the entire narrative arc. Since I don't write from an outline, it's hard to know if something I'm putting on the page is important backstory that I need to know but the reader will only intuit, or if it is a critical component of the story. I also find that I will move actions around within the narrative arc to put them into the place in which they will have the most impact on the reader, which again, I may not know until I've finished a draft.

I do a lot of writing in my day job as well, often within a group of trusted collaborators. It is a very different experience than the storytelling I do personally, but it is just as creative a process and can be equally exhilarating. I good writing group is small, two or three people who trust each other enough that we can be instantly and brutally honest, and who can play off of each other's strengths. I have the joy of working with a colleague who is the strongest writer on a blank piece of paper I have ever seen, and who can translate a rough idea into a meaningful concept and takes joy in the interactive process of finalizing the page.

The opposite of that experience is writing by committee, in which every person around the table is going to take their shot at making the document reflect their opinion and will want to re-write every re-write. That is Hell on earth.

The truth of the matter is that if you want to be a good writer in any situation, you must be open to feedback, some of which stings and some of which crushes the soul. It won't all be on target, but if you dismiss it out of hand, your narrative will never be what it could and should be.

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