E. 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.
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.
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.