Sometimes I like to talk as if I know the first thing about how to write stories. I do it mostly to psyche myself up, to convince Inner Daniel that we know what we’re doing here and that everything is going to be alright. When morale is low, I try to focus on the things I know to be absolutes. One space after a period. Words go left to right. And my favorite: you gotta hustle for that flow. There’s no way around that last one. Trust me, I’ve looked for years.
I saw a post on /r/writing several weeks back about someone asking if it is necessary for them to completely rewrite their first draft. And at the time, I remember letting out a haughty yes, you poor dumb bastard. But then I remembered I don’t know the first thing about how to write stories, so I fixed myself a cocktail and thought about the question some more.
The truth is, you don’t have to do anything, but you have to do something. If you can write a first draft and then edit inline all the way to a finished product, then great, I admire you and think you have a winning smile. I can’t do that because of the lack of flow, the lack of movement from one sentence into the next. To me, in-place edits of complete sentences and paragraphs feels like patching drywall and doing a really shitty job of it.
Better analogy: it’s like trying to play or rewrite a few bars of music without taking the rest of the piece into account.
That’s how I feel about it anyhow. Feeling that flow from one sentence into the next, the tempo and tone of it… that’s what really brings the language alive.
Flow is one of the few reasons I do a complete rewrite from Draft 0 into Draft 1, and Draft 1 into Draft 2, and so on, until everything is smoothed.
Smooth is one of my favorite words to use during a read-through because it specifically calls out flow. The story is humming along, everyone’s doing their thing, and suddenly you find a paragraph or sentence that just doesn’t fit. Maybe you were in a hurry to write, maybe you’d lost your train of thought, but whatever the case, it’s time to do some work.
You could just edit it in-place, but much like practicing those few bars of music, sometimes you need to the context of the entire piece to make it sound right.
Today is May 11th, 2018, and on my desk are 349 marked-up pages ready to be rewritten. I have emails from alpha readers with feedback that ranges from “cool story bro” to detailed analysis of each chapter. My notes. Their notes. Two decks of cards to be shuffled together. In sequence, creating something completely new.
I’ve lost my own thread here.
Rewrites are hard. They’re work, and work is daunting. But to stand up and loudly proclaim I wrote this story perfectly on the first try just seems… foolish. So much can change between the start and the finish. So much can change each time you re-read the story.
For example, a lot of my alpha readers hated one of the MC’s relationships with his girlfriend. I didn’t do a good job of explaining it and it might be too complicated to present in the short amount of time available, so I’m going to rework it to require less explanation. Another MC had this whole disciple-God relationship thing going on that I’m going to change to a father-son dynamic because of reasons.
I don’t know how you’d make those edits inline, but I do know that if you go word by word, copying from one Word doc into another, you can smooth out the changes on the fly and make sure it all works together.
It reminds me of that one Eminem song:
“Music is like magic there’s a certain feeling you get
When you’re real and you spit and people are feeling your shit.”
Same for writing. Let the story flow. Let your readers get swept up in it. It’s hard work, and you’ll have to hustle, but it’ll be worth it.