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The Ugly Side of Writing

Author: E. P. Ned Burke

Rewriting a manuscript may not be the most attractive part of a writer’s job, but it is a necessary one, which brings to mind a local television ad I enjoyed watching years ago. It showed this hillbilly character sitting near a stack of old tires. He wore a pair of bib overalls and he looked straight into the camera and drawled, “Folks, tires ain’t purty.” The ad sold a lot of tires because the actor was believable, and he stated an obvious fact; namely, tires were not beautiful, but they were necessary.

When I first started writing, I thought I was “purty.” I considered myself an “artist,” someone who splashed words upon a page and then stepped back to admire them. Creativity meant never having to rewrite a single word. Such “creativity” also resulted in a steady stream of rejection slips. Over the years, however, I matured and finally acknowledged that rewriting (or, at least, rethinking to find the best word or sentence) had to be a part of my work ethic.

During my newspaper days it was pounded into me to give careful thought to each word before putting anything to paper. “Get it right the first time,” I was told. Ernest Hemingway, a former newsman, also chiseled out sentences for his novels in the same manner. When he was satisfied with one “perfect” sentence, he went on to the next, and then the next. Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald, on the other hand, wrote whatever came to mind, and then later went back and rewrote, sometimes entire chapters. My wife is also a very creative writer and she likes to “let it flow” and then edit and rewrites everything again and again. I try to edit as I go along; then I go back to the beginning and rewrite what needs fixing, maybe once or twice.

What method is best? I believe it depends on the individual. The important thing is not to be satisfied with the first thought that pops into your head. Think! Then rethink. Then rewrite.

Samuel Johnson once said, “You should read over your composition and when you meet a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Now that may be a harsh statement, but it does stress the need to be ruthless when editing your own copy. The best way to approach the task of rewriting is to pretend you are editing another writer’s manuscript. Picture in your mind the worst writer you know. Now take out that blue pencil and cut, cut, cut. You will be surprised how well you feel after chopping away all the dead wood.

“The beautiful part of writing,” said writer Robert Cromier, “is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.” Whether it takes you two drafts or twenty-two drafts doesn’t matter. The final draft is all that counts. Think of yourself as a diamond cutter, chiseling away until you extract the perfect diamond. Then step back in awe and say, “That’s it!”

Who should rewrite?

Only writers belonging to the human race need to edit and rewrite. Dogs, cats and aardvarks are exempt from this practice.

Author Kay Cassill stated, “I don’t believe a writer exists today who can’t profit from that editorial blue pencil.” All of us need to proofread our copy at least twice. Don’t rely on your computer spell-checker to spot spelling errors as many are overlooked, such as “there” instead of “their.” And don’t edit on the computer screen; print your pages and then edit. Errors in spelling and grammar are easier to spot on the printed page. Above all, don’t expect today’s editors to fix your mistakes. Most do not have the time, and many will simply reject your manuscript in favor of one with fewer errors. Rewriting is a fact of life. Accept it, or perish.

What should you rewrite?

You should rewrite only what can be rewritten correctly, or better, or more clearly.

Mark Twain left us with many pearls of wisdom and one of my favorites was his saying, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” The goal of each writer is to find the “right word,” the one that conveys succinctly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Don’t settle for “almost.” Cut and polish until that diamond illuminates the page.

“Like stones, words are laborious and unforgiving, and the fitting of them together, like the fitting of stones, demands great patience and strength of purpose and particular skill,” said Edmund Morrison. It’s true that putting words on paper is easy; taking them off is the hard part. But, with the right frame of mind, rewriting can be fun.

Buy yourself a good dictionary and thesaurus. Also, get The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. This little book–less than 100 pages–is filled with numerous nuggets of wisdom on the correct rules of grammar. Look for clichés, redundant phrases, excessive adverbs, too many adjectives, and unneeded words or sentences. Writing is all about clarity. Keep it simple. Be direct. Don’t use two words when one will do. Use a machete rather than a pocketknife when you become verbose. Expect some bloodletting.

When should you rewrite?

If you’re writing a novel, don’t wait until you finish the entire book before editing your pages. Begin rewriting as soon as possible, preferably after the first few chapters. I say this because if you finish the entire book you are somewhat “locked” into the outcome. During rewriting–as often happens– you may take an entirely new direction. Writing is all about the freedom to express yourself. So why be shackled? The same is true for short stories or articles. Begin editing at the first pause in the creative flow. For some, this may not be until the end of the story or article. For many, however, the muse departs after several pages. When this happens, stop! Go back to your first page and try to write it better. Move on to the next and do the same. When you reach where you left off you will be surprised your muse has returned, refreshed and ready to go again.

Where should you rewrite?

By this I mean, “Where in your manuscript are you most likely to need editing?” The first place to look would be your opening paragraph. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on a novel, short story, or article; the beginning must hook the reader into wanting to know more. Read the first lines of some of the classics and you’ll see what I mean.

“Vigorous writing is concise,” wrote William Strunk Jr. in The Elements of Style. “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

In addition to the beginning, make sure your ending is equally concise and free of errors. Leave an editor with a satisfied smile on his face. Don’t add more than necessary to wrap-up your article or story. Know when enough is enough. Thomas Wolfe gave his editor, Max Perkins, fits because he never knew when to stop writing. Perkins had to literally sneak into his apartment and steal the manuscript before Wolfe added more to it.

Another area to look for trouble is in dialogue. Delete all unnecessary adverbs and explanatory verbs. The word said is preferable in most cases.

Why should you rewrite?

There are  three rules to becoming a successful writer: (1) Write (2) Rewrite (3) The same as Rule 2. The only way to become successful in any endeavor is through practice; rewriting is the practice part of writing. Look at golfer Tiger  Woods. He will “write” during a golf tournament, but he will also “rewrite” over and over again at the practice range, trying to eliminate any errors in his swing. Often during interviews, he remarks, “I just want to put myself in contention.” He does this by “rewriting” his golf game until it is perfect.

Few of us can equal Tiger on the golf course, but we can certainly put ourselves in contention with other writers by practicing our trade with the same dedication. Let’s face it, going to the practice range is not as glamorous as playing in a televised tournament before thousands of cheering fans.

Rewriting is also not glamorous, but it is necessary if you want to be a winner. And, who knows? Some day you may have fans of your own.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/publishing-articles/the-ugly-side-of-writing-849758.html

About the Author

E. P. Ned Burke has worked in publishing for three decades. He is the author of 7 novels and numerous short stories and articles.
Currently, he is president of E. P. Burke Publishing and serves as the online editor of Yesterday’s Magazette and The Perspiring Writer Magazine. He is also owner of My Personal Copywriter, Ebooks On Writing, Ebooks For Marketeers, and The eBay Book Nook Depot.