The joy of rewriting


If I can believe what I read on writer’s blogs I am in a minority in that I enjoy the process of rewriting. I like take “good” and improving it. I like finding the places I wrote one thing but meant something else and savor tweaking them to reflect my actual intention. Art takes effort. Nearly anyone can write prose that can pass as a story. Most humans can write stories about sex. In fact the biggest problem I see in much of the erotica I read is that it is unfinished from the writerly point of view. The story is there and might be a potentially intriguing plot, but the details are wrong or the fictional fabric incomplete. It is as if the writer dashed it off and left it without reading it.

Writing stories that draw a reader in and elicit a strong response takes work. I like that about good writing. Craft shows, although it does not intrude when done properly. In some metafiction it seems that the craft is the story. To the extent that I manage to achieve those twin goals of drawing readers in and eliciting responses (whether they are the ones I intend to elicit is irrelevant) I do it through impassioned writing and dispassionate rewriting — my writing team.

I find that writing erotica requires more rewriting than other types of fiction, probably because it is difficult not to be swept up into what the cliche artists refer to as “the heat of the moment” even when rewriting and the story is familiar.  Only by going back to a story after it has sat for a time, can I find the things that detract from the fictional flow. Although it is a factor as well, I’m not talking about copy editing but more about word choice, places where more description is really needed (or perhaps less, when description becomes tedious) and even places where the storyline mysteriously falls off some sort of strange cliff in defiance of logic, if not gravity.

Yes I do all those things.

Robert Heinlein famously remarked that the difference between a great writer and everyone else is that the great writer a well-developed shit detector. (Of course, he also said that writing was nothing to be ashamed of but that it should be done in the dark and you should wash your hands afterward.) But to work properly a good shit detector needs a bit of time and distance. I haven’t always given my work enough time. Preparing ebooks for print publication made that clear to me.

Not giving things enough time is a function of impatience. I enjoy rewriting but I am also eager to get this one done and move on to the next, which is usually already taking shape in my head and in one or more of my notebooks (yes, I multitask; not because I think it is a good idea but because I am weak). So I have begun imposing rather artificial cooling off periods in my schedule. If I finish a short story today I won’t allow myself to read it for at least a day. Maybe I can start that next story and let the completed one recede in my mind. It is artificial, but it seems to work. I like things that work even though I am not thrilled about imposing rules on myself (have I mentioned that I am an anarchist?).

So I will give this a go for a time. If it drives me completely batfuck or doesn’t appear to be working,I reserve the right to flush it, but before I do that I would like to find new and improved ways to make the stories better. I want that for myself as much as for my readers. I can’t stand the idea that I put out anything that isn’t as good as I can make it. Not perfect, as I make nothing perfect. But I’d settle for damn good.

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