When I was a teenager, words freely flowed onto the page. A columnist and reporter for the county newspaper, I was writing while other high school kids were waiting tables and babysitting. I often thought it was strange they paid me to do something I loved, but kept the paychecks anyway. It kept me full of Mountain Dew and my car full of gas.
When deadline was breathing down his neck, my newspaper editor would stand in front of my desk and slap his ruler on my desk in rhythm to the clattering of my IBM Selectric typewriter.
“Type, Melly, type!”
When deadline was close, there were no rules. If he didn’t have a story to fill a column, I wrote on demand. He never edited my work. I thought it was because I was so good. I was told later it was because he was a Communications major who didn’t write very well. He hired me because I could. When minimum wage was around $3.00, it was an inexpensive way to cover his lack of ability.
Sometimes he’d pull a page out of my typewriter in the middle of a sentence and run it over to the typesetter. I’d roll in a fresh piece of paper and continue typing frantically.
As fast as I could type, the typesetter would retype, then hand the printed column to the layout woman. She’d run it through the wax machine, cut it and place it on the dummy, while guessing how many more paragraphs I needed to type.
Now much older and much slower, I have a different understanding of “good” writing. Nobody is pulling a first draft from my printer and publishing it.
I have learned the value of rewriting. At first it was agony. I pour out my heart in my first draft. I am inspired as I combine personal experience with a takeaway for the reader. Why isn’t it perfect as it is?
Because it isn’t perfect, that’s why.
Advice about rewriting comes in different story forms.
“Don’t be married to your words.”
“Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings.”
I walk away for awhile and come back in fresh mode. First I evaluate the work as a whole, then as individual sentences and finally, as individual words. At the final point, I live and breathe through each word.
How can I say more with less words? Can I evoke more emotion? It is in my unique voice? Am I using clichés or my pet words?
Can I make the reader go AHHHHH! instead of HUHHHH?
Then, I rewrite my rewrites.
The rewrites are then rewritten.
Maybe, just maybe, after many rewrites, I’ll have something worth pulling from the printer.
To learn more about rewriting: