Giving Rewriting Your Best: Read What Bores You

Calculus by Encel Sanchez from FlickrE. B. White once said, “The best writing is rewriting.”

I could not agree more. My first drafts tend to be horribly unfinished affairs. There are characters appearing out of nowhere, plot lines introduced clumsily, scenes out of order. I don’t go back and revise anything until an entire draft is finished, so you’d be surprised how many mistakes I let slide.

I do this because, as a writer, I have one of the greatest tools at my disposal known to humankind. I have the ability to go back and fix my mistakes.

Isn’t that crazy? How many times have you been having an argument and come up with a great comeback hours after the argument is finished? How many times have you offended someone accidentally and wished you could take it back? How many times have you reviewed your actions in hindsight and wished you could change them? Imagine if you could go back and fix all of those moments.

Writers get to do that.

I always feel like this ability is underrated. I am constantly pointing out how powerful rewriting is. I am constantly celebrating rewriting. It doesn’t matter how awful your first draft is, if your rewriting skills are honed you can turn anything around.

This brings me to a piece of advice I wish I had taken earlier in life. It’s kind of a weird one, and I came across it in an odd way, but it has worked.

The advice?

Read stuff that bores you.

That’s it. Read things that bore you and your rewrites will start to improve.

You probably want an explanation of what I’m talking about, don’t you.

One of my pet peeves is people who approach anything, any problem or event or aspect of life, anything, with the notion that we, as humans, are static beings. That we are born a certain way and that’s who we are and nothing changes as we move along through life.

I hate that. It’s asinine. Our brains change a ridiculous amount over time, and I’m not just talking about the beginning years of development. No. The fact is that our brains become whatever we put into them. Your brain changes based on your thoughts, it changes based on what you pay attention to, it morphs based on what you make it do. It can be trained; performing a task will cause your brain to begin seeing that task differently. If you apply this notion to something you do every day for years on end, well it will start to have a large impact on how you think.

Someone who has cut hair for the past twenty years and someone who has been a physical therapist for the past twenty years are going to see the same group of people very differently. One is going to notice a lot more about their hair, the other will notice a lot more about their posture.


Read things that bore you.


Because when it comes time to do rewrites, you will have to read your manuscript over and over and over and over and over…

It becomes maddening and I can remember how much I used to hate rewriting back on my first book. It made me cringe and whimper and it sucked.

But it has gotten easier over time, and you can help speed along that process by reading things that are boring.

Again, why?

Well this advice came to me via a friend of mine who was taking the MCAT. He took an MCAT class to help him study and part of his homework was to read boring things.

See, there’s a reading comprehension section on the MCAT and the passages are long, and dull, and full of huge words, and staying focused while reading them is a challenge.

But you can combat that by reading boring things so that you train yourself to focus better on material that doesn’t jump out at you immediately.

You can train yourself to be a more disciplined and precise reader.

Sound familiar? Making sense yet?

Rewriting is nothing more than poring over your manuscript, word by word, patching it up as you go and fixing problems that you see.

And rereading your own work is hard enough the first time. But then you have to do it ten more times, all the while staying focused and spotting what needs fixing.

The best way to get better at it?

Read things that bore you and you can improve your rewriting even if you have nothing that needs rewriting.

Now I’m not saying to exclusively read boring things. That would be idiotic. But grab a dusty old tome, you know better than I do what bores you, and put in fifteen minutes a day.

Fifteen real minutes of focused reading.

You’ll become a more focused reader, and your rewrites will begin to reflect that.

Why I Hate George Lucas

Over this past weekend, for some reason, Spike TV was on constantly in my apartment. They were airing the entire Star Wars saga over and over again in a continuous loop. I’d head out for errands and come back to watch Luke get de-handed. After a late dinner I watched some Jar Jar. On Sunday I watched the finale of the original while texting with a friend.

It was during this text conversation that we realized that all of the movies would be trotted out, once again, starting this spring…only now in 3-D!

My friend had one thing to say: “I hate George Lucas.”

I agreed.

But over the past few days I’ve come to realize what a strong phrase that is, “I hate George Lucas,” and I began to wonder why a guy obsessed with puppets and magic could bring such strong emotion out of me. Oh, I know there are plenty of reason to hate the prequels (ChefElf covers those far better than I ever could). I have long since downgraded all of them to “Crap.”

But it wasn’t the prequels my friend and I were watching when our issuance of hatred arose. It was the originals. The new originals. The ones packed full of just utterly absurd changes that serve no purpose. In A New Hope we get to see Jabba! Hooray! And he’s presented in a way that makes absolutely no sense and as if fucking up his physical appearance wasn’t enough, we now get a scene where Han Solo steps on the tail of the most feared crime leader in the system and nobody cares. It’s played for laughs in fact. Ha. Ha.

In Empire, R2 gets eaten by a swamp monster and spat back out. Luke, in the original, wipes mud off of R2 and says: “You’re lucky you don’t taste very good.” Now, through the magic of editing, he says: “You were lucky to get out of there.” Awesome!

And this goes on. And on. And on. It’s like a madman is at the wheel of my childhood, and instead of passing by all my favorite memories he’s randomly making right-hand turns to see things no one cares about and tell fart jokes.

And yet still, I’m not sure that’s where my hate comes from, though mucking about in my childhood memories is not a good thing, to be sure.

No. I think I hate George Lucas because the prequels manage to make THE ENTIRE FIRST THREE MOVIES MAKE NO SENSE. Obie-Wan ages forty years in the time it takes Luke to grow into a teenager. Chewbacca, who fought at Yoda’s side during the Clone Wars (apparently), never once pipes up with the slightest bit of information. Vader doesn’t bother to look for his children or old master in his hometown. Oh, and also, nobody remembers or cares or believes in the Jedi, who less than twenty years ago were a major part of the Imperial whatever the hell it was called.

And I know, these things are somehow explained in the books. I get told that a lot.

But I don’t care about the books. People are constantly plugging up plot holes using a jury-rigged explanation from material that doesn’t exist in the movies. I get angry when fans defend the existence of cities that make zero sense by conjuring up some bizarre native cultural belief that is not addressed in the films. Or how I get assured that scenes of complete nonsense are actually perfectly explainable if I know the back-stories of the characters that got made up to explain the nonsensical scenes in question. In short, I get angry when anything outside of the movies needs to be brought in to explain the movies.

Because that is crap.

Pure and utter crap. You don’t get to have legions of fans and gh0st writers scramble to cover up the mistakes you were too lazy or too blind to see, Mister Lucas. You are not a writer, if you do so. You are not a creator. You are not giving anything to your art and you are not respecting your craft.

And that is why I hate you.

Look. Here. These are some notes I wrote trying to piece together one set of scenes for Persistent Illusions (warning: there might be spoilers in here assuming you can read my handwriting):

Notes from Persistent Illusions

That’s a sequence of maybe four scenes. I wanted to make sure that my time-lines made sense. I wanted to make sure, since my characters are all over the world, that I had sunrises and sunsets occurring at the right time in the right places. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t accidentally skip too far ahead or give a character knowledge they couldn’t possibly have. I wanted to make sure that emotional responses had time to build, that fights had back stories, that breakdowns had build-ups.

I wanted to put together the best possible product I could for my readers.

I’m sure I made mistakes. And I know I fudged some things. Artists do that. But I thought long and hard about everything I fudged, everything I did that pushed the unspoken agreement between me and my readers that I’m going to be a good guide for them. And I tried as hard as I could to dim those down and I tried my damnedest to eliminate all my mistakes.

I’m not sure when George Lucas stopped caring, or if he ever did. Maybe he just got lucky in the originals. But I know that the minute you stop caring, the second you shrug and give no thought to putting your name on something you haven’t sweat for, that’s when you stop being an artist.

And to do that with your biggest project? To do that and manage to ruin your previous projects in the same motion?


Just no.

I’ll never join you, Lucas.


I’m a Genius

So I have about five artists reading through rough drafts of the first two parts of the new book, all of them picking out scenes to draw up. This is stupid amounts of fun and I’m quite glad I thought it up. Frankly it’s getting harder and harder to sit on this stuff and not share with you all. But, my desire to host a little countdown is outweighed by my desire to say, “Checkthisoutthisissocool!”

Though not by much.

Plus it’s late August and the world is on vacation and I think I’d rather show the work of these artists to you when your brains are actually turned on.

So I’ll just continue to sit on my ever growing pile of super awesome mystery pictures from the coolest fans ever.

No problem.

So…how do ya’ll want to run this?

Part 1 has now been edited. It isn’t done by any means,I like to read things a LOT of times before I call them done. That being said I’ve been sitting on these damn words for so long that, now that I’ve given them the first once-over, some cracks are starting to appear in my facade of silence. It’s possible that some very large chunks of text have been emailed to some longtime readers. And it’s possible that this trend shall continue.

The cat is very slowly being let out of the bag. What this means is that I need to start figuring out exactly how I’m going to go about releasing this book.

Normally a book is picked over by dozens of people before its release, like reviewers to editors, and then it becomes available for large scale sale on a certain date.  The thing is, you are my reviewers and editors and I’m sort of inclined to invite some of you into the process because I think that’s fun…and also because I need help finding those damned typos. They’re like cockroaches they are.

On the other hand I also want to have a big opening day release for my book because that also sounds like fun, my book deserves a proper birthday party, and I think that starting everyone off at the same time helps build buzz. Maybe. We tend to aim for slow builds as far as marketing goes here at Joseph Devon Industries. We’re like the mother fucking Ravel’s Bolero of this business.


Sooooo…yeah. I’m going to need some readers in the near future.

Think that over and get back to me.

I’ve Missed Rewriting Like This

Rewrites continue and I continue to enjoy them.

Most people have forgotten, or never knew, that Probability Angels was written in serial format. It was part of an experiment called 26 Stories in 52 Weeks. The Matthew and Epp stories, as they were known back then, were written section by section, once a month give or take, all within their own separate two week deadline.  This means that over the course of fourteen days each part was conceived, written and rewritten before being published online.

This book has sat unread by me for over a year. The difference between those two rewriting processes is large. When you only wrote something a week ago and need to rewrite it your head is filled with the images and dialogue and characters to the point where it becomes very hard to see what words are actually there instead of the words you want to be there. It’s like listening to a song that you’ve listened to a billion times and trying to hear it new. The song takes up so much space in your psyche that the task is difficult, to say the least. Some songs you can hear so many times that you aren’t even listening to the same song anymore, you start to pick up new sounds and nuances and what have you. These are the sorts of songs that you can sing along to and you’re not only singing the words but you have every breath from the singer memorized and you know all the drum strokes and every warble of the guitar. I know parts of “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Rosalita” that should, by all means, be merely background noise. Getting distance from something you know backwards and forward is very odd, and getting distance is what rewriting is all about.

The words I’m going over now are entirely unfresh in  my mind and it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to see my own mistakes clearly, to not hit a muddy sentence and still sort of know what I was going for but, instead, immediately know it should be dismissed.

Not to mention I don’t quite remember a lot of these scenes way back in the beginning so it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time.


Reading something I’ve written for the first time is something I never get to do. Because, you know, I’m the one that wrote it, so even on my first read through I still know what’s coming. It’s like a magician being amazed at his own trick.

It just never happens.


The Joys of Rewriting

I forgot how much first drafts suck. There is nothing like having to carve out that first pass at your story from pure nothingness. I swear it’s an act that would be considered madness in any other context. Basically I cram as many voices as possible into my head and then collaborate with them to tell a 100,000 word long lie that I expect people to spend their free time reading.

Makes perfect sense.

But rewriting? Oh, sweet sweet rewriting avoids so many of the crappy parts of the first draft. Everything is set. That’s the big one. Sure I may need to change a ton of things in a ton of scenes to get my work where I want it, but the basic framework is already down. The first draft is like staring at a giant block of stone and trying to figure out what it’s going to be. You have no idea, it has no idea, you have to literally carve everything out of nothing with no path to follow. Rewrites are like having your basic sculpture in place, you can see that that it’s a guy standing on a rock, and you know that maybe his feet need work or the rock doesn’t look right and needs detailing done, but it’s not like you’re going to have to go in and make the rock into a zebra and turn the guy into the Amazon river. Which is pretty much what you feel like when you’re turning nothing into something during that first pass.

There’s also a nice built in end-point. Sure I may need to lengthen some scenes and some chunks might be more work than I realize but for the most part my page count is my page count and I know that X number of pages a day times Y number of days will bring me to the end of one whole read through. A handful of those and suddenly we’re releasing in beta. During the first draft you have a vague idea of where you’re ending is but until you write “The End” it’s never actually there and the words could keep coming and coming for weeks and weeks for all you know.

Finally there’s the new-found freedom. A first draft requires a stupid amount of discipline. There’s a belief that writing is an ethereal process that can take place anywhere and is full of inspiration and magic and marshmallows. I’ve never really found that to be the case. I dunno, maybe I’m doing it wrong, but in my experience the ethereal and joyous part lasts for, at most, the first third of a book. After that it just becomes a desk job. One that requires you to be at your desk at a certain time every day or else you lose your thread, get punished by the writing monster and are then forced to reorganize your brain so that you can pick up your storyline again.

Rewrites have none of that, you can read through ten pages here, ten pages there, and if you have a hangover during one part you can count on yourself to fix that part up better on the next pass. The odds of being hungover for the exact same parts for every read through are quite slim.  With a first draft if you start taking that mentality, if you start leaving chunks to be finished later, then you don’t really wind up with a first draft, you wind up with an outline. And that’s not the same thing at all.

Anyway, we’re off and running on the final leg of this process and I’m enjoying it immensely. At least I’m enjoying it so far. Sooner or later it’s bound to become mundane and the newness is bound to wear off and then we’ll get a post listing all the things I hate about rewriting…but for now, “Huzzah for the Land of Rewrites!”

The Beginning of Rewriting

God this is weird. Rewriting consists of rereading your work over and over again. At least it does for me. I understand that the process differs from person to person but, for me, I just like to sit at my computer and read and read and read and then reread and then rereread and correct and reshape as I go. I really need to get under the hood in order to tinker around.

However, I haven’t read a single word of this book since I started writing it outside of the briefest of scans a few sentences up at the start of each day to reorient myself. Oh, and I think way back when I tinkered with the opening a bit. But  basically I’m reading this for the first time which is…wow this is a weird experience.

On the other hand I left my running shoes in New Jersey this weekend and I dropped my razor in the toilet when unpacking my Dopp Kit (n0 idea how to spell that) and today sucks so I think the thing to do is go watch the Bachelorette at a friend’s house and then maybe watch Inception at like midnight and then see how tomorrow goes.

Which is technically today for you. Because this will post in the morning.

It’s kind of like time travel this thing we do here.