Saturday, March 22, 2014

Today is a Great Day to (re)Write

Steve Laube, a literary agent and president of The Steve Laube Agency, has been in the book industry for over 31 years, first as a bookstore manager where he was awarded the National Store of the Year by CBA. He then spent over a decade with Bethany House Publishers and was named the Editor of the Year in 2002. He later became an agent and has represented over 700 new books and was named Agent of the Year by ACFW. His office is in Phoenix, Arizona. The following blog post is shared by permission from the Steve Laube Agency blog. 
James Michener, the bestselling novelist, once said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” And today is your day to follow suit.
No one knows your work or what you are trying to accomplish better than you. In that sense you can be your own best editor.
In a 1958 interview with The Paris Review Ernest Hemingway was asked,
“How much rewriting do you do?”
Hemingway replied, “It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”
The stunned interviewer asked, “Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?”
Hemingway said simply, “Getting the words right.”
Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, said, “By the time I am nearing the end of a story, the first part will have been reread and altered and corrected at least one hundred and fifty times. I am suspicious of both facility and speed. Good writing is essentially rewriting. I am positive of this.”
It is the same for both fiction and non-fiction since the principles are similar.
Overall Structure
Does your book have a natural flow? Do things build toward a goal or do they flit about like a confused rabbit?
Recently I heard from a number of professionals who have started having someone else read their work-in-progress out loud. This is better than reading it out loud yourself because an objective read could but the wrong emphasis on the wrong word and change the meaning of the paragraph.
Could you rearrange things better? Recently I suggested a client remove three chapters from their non-fiction proposal to bring the total to 13. Thirteen weeks equals a typical quarter of a year which fits many small group and curriculum requirements.
Consider “numbers” when structuring something like a devotional. 365 days. 90 days. 60 days. 31 days. All work. But remember that 40 days is the number of days in Lent. But having something with 112 readings doesn’t add any sort of marketing hook to the project.
Word Choices
Look for repetitive words of pet phrases. Recently I noticed a client’s proposal talked about the number of years they had been doing something in consecutive chapters. Most likely the repetitive sentence crept in during some previous cuts and text rearrangement, but when I read it the first time the information jumped out as being completely unnecessary.
Years ago I worked with a great writer who loved to use the word “very.” I crossed nearly every instance of the word. After sending him the manuscript I received an email with the word “very” repeated 500 hundreds times. He said he was trying to get them out of his system.
In a recent interview with The New York Times Magazine, captured on YouTube, comedian Jerry Seinfeld discussed how he can spend up to two years developing a joke. No matter what you think of him as a comedian you must admire this attention to craft. The seeming simplicity of finding the right “funny” word consumes his creative process.
One of my favorite tools for word choice is The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale (the hardcover edition). Often looking for the right word spurs new inspiration.
Today is Your Day
It is quite possible to tinker with something until it no longer works. But today release that fear and tinker away. Insert a different anecdote into your presentation. Try a different opening to your story. Give yourself a few hours of dedicated revision.

What are your favorite methods for effective self-editing?

4 comments:

Normandie Ward Fischer said...

Love this! And it's exactly what I needed to read today as I slog through another rewrite of my next book. (And this must be the 999th slog. Perhaps 1000 will be the magic number?)

Elaine Stock said...

Yes! Thanks for these suggestions. One of the tricks I've learned just the past couple years in the "magic" of revisions is letting myself have the freedom to let loose and to make a story from what once was plain mud.

Henry McLaughlin said...

Great article. Thanks,Steve. My favorite technique is to do what I call a deep edit on Saturday of what I wrote that week. This includes having my computer read it back to me. That neutral voice is great for catching things.

Charity Paschall said...

Great post. I like the idea of having someone else read it aloud...I hadn't considered that another person's inflection might change the meaning of my writing.