I’ve been taking a creative non-fiction class this semester. Besides being introduced to and immersed in a vast, deep, and beautiful genre of writing, I’ve learned a lot of transfereable skills for other types of writing. The particular lesson I want to talk about today is rewriting.
In my fiction writing process, rewriting was an inevitable outcome of writing a novel as a teenager and then returning to it a few years later. I enjoy rewriting in the editing stage because I am able continue working with familiar plot and characters, but I am also able to add all these new techniques and strength of voice that I have been developing to breathe new life into an old story.
Beyond that, and what I’ve been learning more recently, rewriting during the drafting process is a generally a foreign concept to me. For the writing I’ve been doing for creative nonfiction, I find myself writing a piece, reading it once and then rewriting it. I find that for any 600 words of a piece of nonfiction that I am writing, I will typically write 1800-2000 words before I settle on the 600 with which I want to work. This excess of words happens because when I write a piece, read it, and then rewrite it in a new document either in the same way, just developing it more strongly in some places, or taking the idea and writing it with a different focus or different intended outcome, what I come up with in the end is always vastly different than the way I had originally planned to write the piece.
I have found that the original piece I set out to write is strengthened by going through so many incarnations of rewrites during the drafting stage.
This is important. Rewriting is a normal aspect of my revision process, but previously, all I’ve done is want to get a draft down on paper. doing rewrites in the drafting stage saves a ton of editing because the ideas have been fleshed out by going through so many iterations of a single piece before the editing hat even goes on.
This has been a bit of a frustrating lesson for me. I think of myself as a writer that sprints. I don’t spend a lot of time working on my first drafts. But adding the rewriting step to my drafting process has made me slow down. I think a lot more about the techniques I’m learning about, and I take chances with a piece by trying to approach it in a new way.
That being said, not every rewrite will produce a better version of my piece. I find that the reason it takes me an average of 1800-2000 words for 600 words is because halfway through a rewrite I realize something isn’t working, my voice isn’t coming through, or I’ve overcomplicated what should be a simpler piece.
Being okay with these setbacks is an important aspect of rewriting.
It can be hard to spend so many words on a single draft of a piece, but the extra time put into a single piece by rewritings helps to create a more nuanced and higher quality piece. Spending the extra time to go through the writing process of a piece multiple times without comparing it to an older version of the piece is freeing. Often, ideas that were just out of reach on the first write become clear and integrated with later versions.
I’m not going to lie. Rewriting slows down the writing process immensely. But sometimes, that is exactly what a writer needs to do. Slow down, immerse themselves in a piece and allow yourself to think in grander terms than the way you first put the idea onto paper. I want to encourage you to embrace the rewriting part of drafting whether it is a novel, nonfiction, or any other genre.
I’m still learning when it comes to this aspect of my writing process. Tell me, do you spend time rewriting a draft? What are your tips for making the most of the rewriting process?