Saturday, 1 October 2011

Random Musings on Rewriting

Reading: The Observations by Jane Harris
Writing: rewriting/refining a ghost story
Watching: Saturday Kitchen Live

Writing is mostly rewriting and whilst I find the process satisfying in many ways, it can also leave me frazzled, dazed and ready to give up writing altogether. A lot of writing on the writing process says that writers tend to fall into two categories: those who write first drafts like skeletons that need fleshing out and those who write first drafts like fat ladies who need whittling down into an elegant hourglass shape. I veer between both categories, often in the same piece of writing.

This means that, for me, rewriting is akin to clay sculpture: I have to add bits on and take bits off and if I focus on one aspect for too long, I find my sculpture has become out of proportion. The best approach I've found is to print off my drafts and go over each one several times. I usually use different coloured pens each time I go over a draft, mostly so that I can see which re-reading led to which alterations. If something has been changed several times, I can instantly see:
a). Which changes are the most recent
b). My thought processes in making the alterations
So, for example, I can see that I've fleshed out one part of the story in the first colour pen I used, then pared it down in the second colour pen and finally reintroduced a longer sentence or two to refine the pace.

I also tend to focus on different aspects each time I read through and sometimes use pen colours which correspond to what I'm looking for in each reading. So I tend to use:
Red - for spelling, grammar, punctuation, factual errors and other failures of logic/knowledge.
Green - for fleshing out, particularly in developing characters.
Purple - adding atmosphere and letting my imagination run a little wild; I tend to use it most often for freewriting in my writing journal.
Blue - descriptions, particularly of places, and pacing.
Pink - plot/story changes and background information; it also tends to overlap with the functions of green and purple.
Black - miscellaneous. I tend not to use it much, as it doesn't stand out on the printed page so I might overlook the changes I make.

I don't stick to this religiously - if I notice a spelling mistake when I'm not writing in red, for example, I'm not going to ignore it or go to the bother of finding another pen: I just correct it - but using colour codes does help me focus on specific tasks during rewriting. It might seem odd or fussy, but it helps me. I think it's especially useful for those of us who tend to over- and under-write in equal doses. It helps me to be a little more organised in my thinking - which is why my planner is also colour-coded!