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Writing is rewriting.

All you writers have heard that, right?

It’s true, of course. The first draft of that novel, article, short story, essay, or chapter probably isn’t very good. Oh, it may be good in some ways – a clever phrase, strong voice, good topic if nothing else – but something will always be out of sync. The main idea is confusing, the voice is weak, the plot is dull, the characters are dull. It turns out you’re actually rewriting the phone book. The white pages, not the fun yellow pages. Something’s not right.

Some writers actually like the editing process better than the writing process. I used to think I did. That’s where the story really comes together, after all. You trim the fat, tighten the prose, whatever other slogan you can crib from Weight Watchers. But lately, with my current WORK IN PROGRESS, I’m having second thoughts about that bias. Know why?


The book I’m writing right now is the first one that I’ve really, seriously, outlined. I mean something more than scribbling notes on scraps of paper as inspiration strikes at 2 a.m. or on the interstate driving somewhere. For this book, before I wrote anything, I just sat and tried to outline every chapter, every character, every plot point as best as could. The goal wasn’t an inflexible agenda, but – I hoped – a clear roadmap, in contrast to past writing efforts which were mostly meanderings through the countryside with a vague sense that civilization lay over the next hill somewhere, the route marked by a trail of half-legible (on a good day) scraps of paper. So this time, I resolved to do an honest-to-god outline.

And doing it SUCKED.

But it’s also been the most valuable writing thing I’ve ever done. (Well, second most valuable. The first being when I was a wise-ass college kid pitching a guide to college life to a publisher called “Knowing When It’s Time to Call Mom” only to be asked in big, block-lettered, red pen, “Billy, you’re undoubtedly a nice kid, but when’s the last time you called YOUR mom?” Yeah, that book didn’t go anywhere.)

Anyway, for this one, I decided it was time to let go of the by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to novel construction. Being a pantser is more fun; just sit at the keyboard and go. But you spend an awful lot of time back-tracking trying to remember when George walked through door. What he was wearing. Was his name really George? What’s this book about again? Why the hell did I name him “George”?

But the best part about the outline is what happens after that first draft is done. Re-outlining, friend. Building a whole new outline, chapter-by-chapter, based on what I actually wrote. Immediately, when you start re-reading your stuff, questions pop up, inconsistencies you ignored when you were writing become glaring. Re-outlining points those things out. To help organize that process (the pantser in me still cringes at organization) added some columns for chapter-by-chapter notes about the dominant conflicts in the chapters and questions or concerns I have about what’s happened there.

So that’s where I am now. The re-outline is done. Now I’m about to start on the Next Generation Outline wherein I rebuild the story chapter-by-chapter before moving on to Draft 2. I don’t imagine that will suck any less than outlining Draft 1.

Big wheel keep on turnin’…


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One thought on “WRITING V. EDITING

  1. I remember (almost too vividly) how we had to outline, pre-write, write, edit, etc in school. It seemed like such a long and drawn out process for getting something out of your head. But now in my writing I can see how these tactics were so crucial in teaching me how to organize my thoughts and think through all the steps of the writing process.

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