As a child, I was raised Catholic, even went to a Catholic school through the eighth grade. Had nuns for teachers, the whole bit. Some were nice, some a little scary. But nothing compared to the stories my folks told about some of the nuns they had experienced as kids, back in the 1930’s.
There was this one nun in particular who routinely took offense with left-handed children. She didn’t see this as a matter of birth or genetics, but as an act of rebellion. If she caught you trying to write with your left hand, she’d bring out the ruler and give you several whacks across the palm of your hand. Can you imagine?
Now, of course, we know being left-handed is perfectly normal. Some pretty important people are left-handed, like our current president, Paul McCartney … my wife. But left-handed people are still in the minority; only about 15% are born that way. When we use the expression, “a left-handed way” of doing something, we’re not saying it’s a stupid alternative, just a path less traveled by.
I want to talk about a left-handed approach to self-editing in our fiction writing.
I’m not even left-handed. But somehow, I adopted a different approach to the editing and rewriting process than most people follow, and are told to follow in most of the how-to-write books and blogs I’ve read.
The norm is to write and keep writing all the way to the end of the first draft. Don’t do anything to stop the creative flow. Then go back with the scalpel and edit. Write, then rewrite. Keep them separate. Some would say the two processes are totally different, like a left-brain/right-brain thing.
This is great advice, and for the overwhelming majority, it’s the best way to go. It’s just not how I do it. But the norm is so prevalent, I’ve been tempted to change my practice and conform. I even tried it for awhile, but it didn’t work for me. Felt kind of like a nun slapping my palms with a ruler.
So here’s a left-handed way to self-edit and rewrite. It’s especially helpful for those who don’t write fulltime and those who can’t even write part-time in a consistent routine.
Maybe your schedule is too crazy (this was my life through my first two published novels, The Unfinished Gift and The Homecoming). At the most, I’d get to write two hours at a time, and sometimes go days in between before getting a chance to write again.
Before I’d start to write, I’d go back and read the last chapter, maybe two. This helped me to reconnect with my characters and storyline, get back into the feel of things. But the time gap in between also helped me to approach what I’d written earlier as a reader, not a writer. I’d catch typos, wordy sentences, hear dialog that have could have been said better. So … I’d edit. Fix it right then. And keep doing this until I got to the end of the earlier material and reached a blank page. Then I’d switch hats, become a writer again.
That’s all there is to it.
I’d do this and several months later the book was finished. When I’d go back to re-read and rewrite the manuscript, I’d still find things here and there but was often surprised by how quickly the rewrite process became.
I followed what I’ve just described before turning in the manuscript for The Unfinished Gift, a book that won 2 Carol Awards last November. What readers read in the pages of that book are very close to the original words I’d sent in to my editor at Revell, Andrea Doering. Fair to say about 98%.
I’m about to turn in my fifth book to Andrea. She’s often told me the condition of my manuscripts make her job a breeze. She actually said this about me recently: “I have no idea how Dan does it, but by the time a manuscript reaches me, he’s hidden all the seams.” I like hearing that a whole lot better than seeing a ruler out the corner of my eye and hearing, “Young man, hold out the palm of your hand.”
So…any other left-handed rewriters out there? Anyone who does it differently than the status-quo?
For John and Laura Foster, what began as a fairytale honeymoon in 1857 aboard the steamship SS Vandervere soon becomes a nightmare. A terrible hurricane strikes and the grand ship is lost in the murky depths of the Atlantic. Laura is rescued by a small ship sailing by, but there’s only room for the women and children. Believing her John is lost but still daring to hope for a miracle, Laura must face the possibility of life alone in New York City with a family she has never met. Award-winning author Dan Walsh skillfully tells an epic story of hope, faith, and love through an intimate lens. Inspired by a true story.