The novelist John Irving says, on average, he spends a third of his time writing and two thirds rewriting.
Irving regards his talent as average but thinks that his determination to perfect his work after the first draft is probably what has made him a successful writer.
In the publishing industry, the author Ken Follett is famous for his ability to rewrite his manuscripts to target the needs of his audience.
He has a habit of showing his early drafts to anyone who will read them because he believes everyone's opinion has merit - especially when he's creating a book that's meant to be a bestseller.
Follett, He has been known to rewrite novels extensively – almost completely - based on feedback: developing character relationships, removing plot threads and tightening up the story over and again, prior to the final publication of the work.
As a wannabe fulltime writer, you should be inspired by these examples.
Way back in time, F. Scott-Fitzgerald was apparently once found hunched over the printer's block of one of his novels, rearranging the letters, just before the book went to print.
Perfectionism is a healthy trait in writers - as long as it doesn't stop you from finally letting go when the time comes.
When conducting your own rewriting, consciously be aware of your target audience and make any changes you believe will improve your reader's experience of your book.
They'll love you for it!
Plus, you’ll no doubt know you’ve done a much better job, and you’ll be more pleased with the final product if you really care about what you’ve written – and thought carefully about the words, the structure and, most importantly, how you believe your reader will feel about your writing.
Self-indulgence must be ruthlessly erased from the final manuscript.
You might say you don't know when you're being self-indulgent.
I don't believe it.
When you look back over your work, you do know, deep down, what has to go.
Trust your instincts.
Fact is, and this may hurt to know, that there never was a book or piece of writing that didn't benefit from being shorter.
Plus, don't think that just because you've completed a second or third draft of your magnum opus - and that you've perhaps read it a thousand times - that it doesn't need editing again - by yourself and perhaps, at some point, by another writer.
I currently have only two people in my life that I trust to edit my work.
One, my wife, Robyn, herself a successful children's writer and a person obsessed with clarity in writing and a stickler for grammar, tense, and sense.
Two, my friend and fellow writer, Chris Ryall. He's a budding thriller writer with an inbuilt radar for what's right and wrong when it comes to logic, flow, and impact.
Chris has done many first edit passes on my work and I value every comment and/or adjustment he makes to my manuscripts.
In the past I've done Google searches to find good editors. I’ve worked with a few – and I credit them in my books when I use them.
If you're struggling to find an editor yourself, I think the best way to go is to seek out people you think might be able to help you BUT consciously work on improving your editing skills yourself, all the time.
You eventually want to reach the stage that all you really want is someone to proof your material.
If your work still needs a good edit by your second or third novel, you're probably not learning all that you could.
And learning how to edit your own material is indicative of caring about what you do.
Some legacy publishing editors do a lot more than proof your books.
Often in-house editors are also ruthless book doctors who may rip your manuscripts to shreds during the editing process – especially if they believe you have a bestseller in there somewhere.
If you're one of those people who believe that editors are there to fix your writing, then you probably don't care enough about your writing - and perhaps you shouldn't be doing it!
But that's just me. There's no excuse for being sloppy and then relying on others to fix your work for you.
Because the fact is, if your manuscripts don't work before an editor gets to work on them, then generally no amount of work will make them any better.
Give your work the attention to detail it requires.
Think through everything: every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every section and every chapter, all the way through the book.
Always do your best. And resolve to get better with each new project.
It’s the only way to stay ahead – and to stay fulfilled.
© Rob Parnell
Articles on Writing