This week there’ve been two quite separate items that have made me ponder the art of re-writing. The first was from a poetry blog, describing a process of drafting and re-drafting that chimed with my own experiences of bringing a poem to completion.(I’ll be giving a link to that in my next post) The second was an article in this Wednesday’s Times 2, and it made me wince. To be more accurate, it was the subject of the piece (Jeffrey Archer) that had this effect on me, (not its writer (Erica Wagner).
I’m all for re-writing both prose and poetry as many times as it takes to reach the state of being ‘as good as it can be’. The real difficulty is identifying the bits that need to be changed or cut out entirely.
I’m often asked how long it took me to write my first published novel, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society(my third novel for adults). I never have the full story plotted out from beginning to end – I have a general idea of where I’m heading, but I write in order to find out what my characters actually do and how they achieve this. I tend to do a lot of editing as the story unfolds, and I enjoy honing the pages the following day almost more than creating each new scene. It’s an integral part of the creative process for me.
The Dangerous Sports has 87,000 words (308 pages) but the original version was over 20,000 words longer. Click here to read more about how I made the novel much stronger by doing this. When it finally set out on its journey as a published book, it was, in spite of any shortcomings, a done deal.
What I’ve had to learn all over again, with my soon-to-be-published next novel, Paper Lanterns, is that re-writing each section at least once (and often three or four times) as I work my way towards a satisfactory conclusion of the novel, does NOT mean that this version is anything other than a first draft. I’ll expand on that in another post.
Paper Lanterns hasn’t yet been sent to the printers – there are a few more things to be sorted first, such as copy editing, and the cover design – something that’s put me into in a state of high excitement as I’ve only just received some initial ‘visuals’. I’ll be posting these and other versions here soon and will welcome readers’ views.
But getting back to the re-writing - I still feel fully justified in tweaking parts of some of the scenes in this novel, because it’s still in manuscript form and is yet to be delivered into the world as a finished product. Once it’s been printed and bound, with a lovely front cover and informative back cover, and all the pages in between, there’ll be no more re-writing.
What really made me wince in the Times article was an extract from Archer’s re-written book, Kane and Abel. I read it when it came out thirty years ago, and quite enjoyed it as an escapist read. I hadn’t thought it was presenting itself as anything other than that, and I would never have imagined that he would have bothered to write the whole thing again – especially if his explanation for doing so was really the true reason: “30 years later one is a better craftsman, one is better at one’s job’. I’d have thought that a ‘better craftsman’ would have preferred to demonstrate his improved craftmanship by writing a completely new novel.
I could go on, but I think that this article is available on the Times On-line, if anyone wants to find it. As for the art of re-writing, there’s a lot more to be said about the part it plays in the creation of a poem or a novel and still lots more for me to learn.