On writing and rewriting

I followed a linked from Mitch Wagner’s Blog and stumbled upon a post in John Scalzi’s Blog about the fact that he never rewrites his work, and the reasons why he thinks this is so. One of the reasons he gives is that he does so much thinking through of the story beforehand. I’ve heard other lightly-rewriting writers say the same thing.

I do rewrite, early and often; I think of my whole process of writing as a series of successive approximations circling in on the final story. Everything is fluid until the final polishing draft, and sometimes even then.

John Scalzi doesn’t claim there’s an particular virtue in not rewriting or in rewriting; but I know that being an obsessive rewriter does puzzle some one-draft writers. It’s even been suggested to me that the only reason I rewrite as much as I do is because I’m not willing to think things through beforehand.

But reading yet another thread on a non-rewriter’s process finally clarified for me why I do rewrite as much as I do. Not because I fail to think things through: but because I think things through on paper.

I’ve always been a fairly tactile learner. I don’t know my way around town until I’ve driven it myself; I don’t learn how to use software from software courses, but from pushing buttons and using the software. I don’t know whether I want to buy something until I’ve held it in my hand.

I do some plotting in my head, of course, and work out some snags that way. But in large part, I need the paper to even feel clearly where the snags are.

And I’m usually happier once I have something down on paper, however rough. Once the words are there, I have something I can touch, feel, move around, work with, shape. In a sense, the story is now a physical thing. I have something I can interact with in order to think about, rather than having to do my thinking at a distance, while carefully keeping my hands in my pockets.

This is overstating it a little, but I think for me one-draft writing is a little like writing with a big “Please Do Not Touch” sign (or maybe just a surly sales clerk) watching over my story.

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