Guest Post: Writing is Rewriting

Writer Mama bookYou’ve arrived at stop #19 of the The Writer Mama Two-Year Anniversary Blog Tour Giveaway! I’m honored to be a train stop on this virtual tour. A little background, Christina Katz — aka The Writer Mama — decided to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the book by eTraveling to a different blog every single day of March. So this spot here is part 19 (Darn! I missed my favorite number by one). To read the other parts of the blog tour, find the shortcuts at The Writer Mama Riffs blog.
And there’s more! You have a chance to win a copy of Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids! Remember to check at the end of this post for the 411 on how to win a signed copy of Writer Mama! I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.
I never wanted to own my business. I never considered becoming a writer until it happened. After all, you hear so many folks saying they want to write. I never thought I had any talent or anything special. My writer mama story started with the arrival of my second child. I enrolled in New York University’s online program in Internet Technologies with plans to go for a career in web design.
Got the certificate, did a few web design projects and hated it. No eye for design. No patience for fixing complicated bugs that worked right in one browser and not the next. No enjoyment.
Before all this, I had subscribed to email newsletters on web design. After discovering my dislike of doing the design work, I continued to stay on top of web design. The field of making web sites still fascinated me. One of the newsletters would give away a full-blown copy of Photoshop (!!!) if it published your article. That sparked my writing career. I wrote a few more articles for the same publication, which led to my first paid gig.
Babies. Talent. Segue to Christina’s entry. Thank you for stopping by. Come again, y’all!
Post #19: Writing is Rewriting
There is no such thing as talent. I’ve learned this from observing my own successes as well as my peers and my students. When Anne Lamott wrote the popular writing book, Bird by Bird, I bet writers around the globe breathed a collective sigh of relief. Surely if Anne Lamott writes “shitty first drafts” then there is hope for all of us, right?
And that is why you might nail a chapter in your book on the first try… or the tenth. Or you might be on the verge of wanting to pull your tongue out before the darn introduction comes together. You might simply be unhappy with the guts of a chapter or two because they don’t quite accomplish what you are trying to say. Or maybe you feel that your book draft is somehow incomplete but you’re not quite sure how.
When a piece of writing works, I always think back to something one of my students said once: it’s like a song. Every single word is just right. There’s a harmony in the words that just works. And that’s a great feeling, generally brought about by many rewrites rather than talent.
In book writing, we are striving for that same feeling of completion, of wholeness, of near perfection that is like a song. But saying this and getting there are two different things entirely. And each of us has to decide to get there and then do it however we can. Let’s take a look at the three rewriting phases that typically follow the book drafting process:
Rewrite your brains out: Until you turn in that first full draft, you can rewrite your book as much as you want, whenever and wherever you want. If the book hasn’t been approved as an entirety, by all means, keep rewriting to make it as good as it can get. But be careful not to become so obsessed with rewriting that you don’t make it through your full first draft. Remember Anne Lamott and just bang that “shitty first draft” out.
Approved with suggested rewrites, additions or cuts: Once your editor has gone over the full draft of your book, she will likely request changes ranging anywhere from simple to major. Suffice it to say that most editors would rather make small changes at this stage rather than major changes, but it’s not unusual for an editor to ask for an additional chapter or two, the restructuring of a certain section, or even a cutting of a chapter or two. Trust your editor. She very likely knows what she’s talking about and has the reader in mind.
The copyediting stage: Perhaps the most loathed and appreciated person you will ever encounter is your copy editor. You may initially dislike her with some gusto in the short run and then appreciate her a lot more in retrospect. Luckily for writers, a thoughtful copy editor knows that a little bit of appreciation for all of your hard work can go a long way even as she nitpicks your grammar to death. And even an ungenerous soul with an eye for excellent usage can bump your book to publication-quality from wherever it was. I say, go ahead and let a copyeditor feel superior (if that’s how you think she feels—she might, then again, she might not). And, since you will likely never have to encounter your copy editor face-to-face, since they are typically hired out as freelancers, you don’t ever have to worry that you will have the opportunity to tell them what you really think of them after you’ve just reviewed an especially “bloody” red-line of your hard-wrought efforts.
The galley stage: You’d think after all of these editorial reviews your book would be on the brink of divinity, right? Sadly, no. The layout folks likely accidentally deleted a few sentences here or there. And if there are tables or graphs, you’d better finger-read every word and make sure all your logic is parallel or whatever it’s supposed to be. There are plenty of typos in your book and this is your last chance, before publication, to find them. Sticky notes come in handy at this stage. You may as well purchase them in bulk, just in case.
Today’s Book Drawing: To enter to win a signed, numbered copy of Writer Mama, answer the following question in this blog’s comments:
Describe your typical rewriting process. Do you usually nail it on the first try or do you have to progress through multiple rewrites?
Thanks for participating! Only US residents, or folks with a US mailing address can participate in the drawing. Please only enter once per day.
Where will the drawing be tomorrow? Visit to continue reading the rest of the Writer Mama story throughout March 2009!

19 thoughts on “Guest Post: Writing is Rewriting”

  1. I like to call my first draft “word vomit.” It’s about getting my thoughts our there. Clarity comes with multiple revisions, second opinions, and trying again.
    I have found, however, that the more I do it, the easier it is. My nursing blog is pretty straight forward now, but I used to work on one post for a whole week. Now, I can bang it out in a day.
    Fiction, on the other other hand, still requires multiple revisions. But, I’m learning the rules and know it will get easier in time.
    Lorettajo Kapinos´s last blog post… The Heat is ON!

  2. @Brad, it helps not to worry about a perfect first draft otherwise it becomes too much pressure and leads to writer’s block.
    @Lorettajo, HA! “Word vomit.” Love that. Regular writing practice does make a difference.

  3. Funny, I just dug through boxes upon boxes to get my copy of “Bird by Bird” last night. Revision … with short stuff like blog posts and articles I tend to be a one draft writer and revise as I go. My fiction projects are a different dog. I’ve revised my current novel in progress so much that I wonder sometimes how it is that I, the author, didn’t see these changes coming! 🙂 The book is better for it and I glad I’ve given myself the time it takes to write it right.

  4. I like “word vomit.” I try to do that as much as possible, as I’ve learned over time that editing as I go, at least when I’m writing the first page, does not work. For short, factual nonfiction pieces, that’s pretty easy. Sometimes I start in the middle and write the ends later. For creative nonfiction, it’s harder but I make myself do it. Then I go back–a day,a week later–and revise, trying not to rewrite the original heart of the piece.
    Joanna´s last blog post… Boy Thoughts

  5. Short articles are usually written in one draft, with some quick editing, and then publication.
    When I write longer articles, it seems to take forever to get them completed. I get caught up with editing, and somehow never seem satisfied with the final result.

  6. For most of my writing, what you see is typically what I wrote on the first go. I think having a job so early in life as a reporter helped me to write fast and correct the first time.
    That is, unless I’m writing a book. My memoir…I have NO idea how many versions and drafts and rewrites I did. I finally had to just be done.
    My fiction novels? Rewrites? One day…when they take priority, that’s when we’ll see. For now, they’re sitting there as sh!tty first drafts. 😀
    Angela Giles Klocke´s last blog post… my little protege

  7. For fiction, several rewrites for me. I can never leave well enough alone. Once I’m in the final stages, I have a checklist that I’ve developed that I use.
    Sometimes I think I over-analyze my stuff, but it works for me. I do have a critique group and run most things through them.
    Articles I usually do a first draft and a polish. The shorter the article, the less time I take on it.
    Tricia Sanders´s last blog post… Hear Ye Hear Ye

  8. I definitely rewrite my book manuscripts, especially the young adult one I’m working on (I think I am on the 15th draft/version now of it!). For my children’s books I try different approaches to telling a story, so I rewrite the entire text in a different manner each time until I hit upon the one that seems to work the best. Editing and revising has always been an interest of mine, so rewriting is actually fun for me 🙂
    Kimberly Zook´s last blog post… Figures, Figure Eights, and Figurative Language

  9. @nathalie, between your mention and Christina’s — it sounds like I need to crack open my copy of Bird by Bird.
    @Joanna, sometimes the opener can indeed be a block, so starting in the middle can work better as you say.
    @Deborah, I think a lot of us writers feel that way.
    @Angela, doing something for years does make you more efficient and a better writer. I cringe when I look at my old writings.
    @Tricia, a checklist is smart. I haven’t done fiction, but I imagine because I haven’t … it’d be serious word vomit for many drafts. 🙂
    @Jenni, I recently wrote an article that I thought had enough rewriting. It wasn’t ready. I needed to sit on it. I did and it turned out nice.
    @Kimberly, I love your idea for children’s books — to rewrite in a different way. Since they’re shorter, we have that luxury.
    @Katie, there you go!
    @Jenn, here’s a another reminder. 🙂


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