Trying On Clothes: A Metaphor For Rewrites

I sit in my critiquing meeting as my best friend furiously draws huge X’s through entire pages of my manuscript. I laugh because I know she means well, and she may very well be right – the entire scene may need to go. It may need to be rewritten, or split into pieces, or placed elsewhere in the story.

I’m an outliner, and I am writing to an outline, but as I tell anyone who tries to feed me the bullshit line “Outlining takes all the fun out of things, there’s no surprises!”, no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. If I agonized over what order scenes were going to go in, and whether or no every single scene needs to be there, I would freeze up and never get anything done.

So even though I have an outline, stuff doesn’t always flow out onto the page smoothly. But you can revise what you haven’t written, so this bunch of scenes, I just went ahead and banged them out. There’s some repetitiveness in them, because there’s a couple of different ways I could reveal plot points, and I ended up writing more than one version.

It’s like if you need a dress for an event, and you have a pretty decent idea of what you want – you have a picture in your head. You have a favourite colour, a style, maybe you know you hate princess bodices (princess bodices look terrible on me) and you like lace but not sequins, chiffon is great, etc.

But you don’t show up at the store, grab a dress off the shelf that has all the right stuff and take it to the counter. You try it on, because sometimes the way a dress fits, it may be made to flatter one body type and not another. Sometimes it turns out that’s not your colour. Or you have these fantastic shoes you want to wear, but they don’t match the dress, and you find a good dress, but you have to choose between the dress and the shoes – the two don’t go together.

And writing is just like that. I always tell newer authors starting revisions not to be afraid of rewrites because sometimes you don’t know a dress is going to look awful on you until you try it on. Sometimes that scene both needs to be written, and needs to be cut. Sometimes you have to bang it all out onto the page and piece the fragments together later. Sometimes there’s a plot twist that could be executed three different ways, and you have to write them all before you know which one works best.

Outlining can help, but it doesn’t eliminate all rewrites. Unpredictable things happen as words flow onto the page and your story takes on a life of it’s own, and outlining doesn’t stop that from happening. And just because something comes out crap the first time you write it doesn’t mean you’re a shit writer, it’s often just part of the process. So go fearlessly write crap, and when you think you’ll just be cutting it later, don’t let it paralyze you. But don’t let it stop you from cutting it later either.

Writing a novel is a lot of work, don’t try to cut corners or let your novel be less than the best it can be just because you don’t want to rewrite something that needs rewriting!

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One response to “Trying On Clothes: A Metaphor For Rewrites

  1. Writing more than one version of a scene sounds like a good idea. A bit like a movie-maker shooting several versions of a scene and selecting the best in later editing.

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