Thursday, January 7, 2010
Rewriting Your Prose
Hemmingway once told an interviewer that he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times before he got it the way he wanted it. When the interviewer asked what gave him so much trouble, he said, "Getting the words right."
I've spent the last few months trying to get the words right and to do that I've tried a few strategies. Here's what worked for me this time:
First, I single spaced my entire ms. That change made the book fresh. I could read all too familiar phrases and sentences with new eyes and find the flaws.
Then I did some searches for repeated structures. I found I had fallen in love with "As she walked toward" and used it so many times that my Edit feature went into overload. I also discovered that almost everybody in my book smiled at least once. Out with all that over-smiling!
After I thought I'd got the words right, I printed out the book and found that I had not gotten all the words right after all. A print out is a great way to again give you a "fresh impression" of what you've been working on for months.
While time is always a factor, I've found giving myself a break between edits cuts my rewriting time.
When you rewrite, do you have certain strategies that work or do you try new ones each time? What seems to be the most effective way to get in there and get to the heart of that prose?
I'm going to do another post about this topic and next time I'm tackling how I rewrite "scenes." In the meantime, I'm, uh, rewriting scenes.