Neal’s Rules for Revising: Write it Twice (or Thrice)

It is obvious that sometimes you first draft is not your best. But even after revising and working that draft to shiny perfection, it still isn’t quite right. It doesn’t do whatever you want it to do, although you might not see where it is falling down on the job. Sometimes, it is better in the long run to rewrite it from the beginning.

Admittedly, this is easier to do with short stories. I recently found myself writing various different versions of the same story and finding each new one a strong improvement. This might be due to the fact that I do love novelty, but with each successive iteration, I have added some element that was lacking previously while pulling along the elements that made the story so compelling (at least for me).

This has also been done with longer novels. If I remember correctly, AndrĂ© Schwarz-Bart, author of The Last of the Just, wrote that novel five times before he felt it was complete. I know for my current novel that I am shopping around, I rewrote 2/3 of it (after doing what I considered to be revisions), then rewrote 1/3, then rewrote 1/4 before I finally reached a completed first draft was ready for actual revisions. I don’t know if it is good enough for publication, but it is certainly better than what I had.

All this reminds me of a writing exercise, where one takes a prompt (e.g., “It was a dark and stormy night…”) and then writes ten different versions of what comes next. If nothing else, it teaches you how to look with fresh eyes at some of the tropes that exist, finding new ways to explore old situations/environments.

The upshot is that revising is not always simply changing words around or improving a description here or there. Sometimes a story needs to be told again and again until it comes out right.

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