Thursday, January 7, 2010

Rewriting Your Prose

As Stein says, "The biggest difference between a writer and a would-be writer is their attitude toward rewriting."A real writer hits delete when a word, a phrase, or a sentence doesn't work.

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.


  1. I'm a big fan of letting the ms sit and filter around in my brain for a bit between rounds of revising and editing. I also use the find feature a lot to check for those repetitive words - wordle helps with this too :)

  2. "Getting the words right" Ain't that the truth. Great quote.
    I like the single-space, smaller font printout with post-its to mark edit spots. But I'm so new to editing novels that I'm up for trying any number of suggestions.

  3. These are some excellent suggestions for editing/revising which is my least favorite thing to do. I am struggling to change my attitude.

  4. I change the font or the format (columns instead of standard format). I keep a list of commonly overused words and highlight them in the m/s and then review. I print it out if I'm doing a structural or major revision, rearranging scenes etc. I don't print as often on line/word level changes--because I feel like I am doing that until I hit send! I've also used a site called AutoCrit. You can use their editing feature for 800 words or less words free.

  5. I love your idea about changing your MS to single spaced. I'm going to try it next time.

  6. Single spaced? Wow, you're my new hero. For me, it's about printing it out on paper and really "seeing" it.

  7. Some other great ideas here. Columns sound interesting, Joanne. I guess the general idea is to change the way the page looks, so you're more likely to pick up overused patterns and awkward prose.

    Off to do some reformatting.

  8. I can't stand it if my manuscript is single spaced - makes me crazy! :)

    These are great (and for me, timely) suggestions. Thank you!

  9. I understand, Shannon. Me too, but it's one way for me to see something I've read over and over in a new way. I pick up all kinds of things that need changing.

  10. I really wish I had the patience to get the words right...

  11. I always have to work from a print out when I'm doing big picture revisions. I like the idea of changing up the format in some way to make your words seem new again. I also find time away from my work helps tremendously with reading with a fresh perspective.


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