Redrafting Part 1: Writing as Rewriting
Recently a student asked if it would be a problem that his redrafted work for assessment was considerably different from the pieces he had originally submitted for his assignments. I replied that it was absolutely fine – it’s assumed that students will develop their craft over the duration of the course and therefore make use of their new skills to hone their assignments prior to assessment. Examiners expect to see changes, and substantial ones are perfectly acceptable.
With an assessment deadline on the horizon, I thought a blog on the nature of redrafting might be useful. Of course, redrafting doesn’t have to mean completely rewriting a piece; rather, it’s a catch-all term for a wide range of approaches to a piece of work, from a drastic overhaul to the adjustment of a single comma.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given about redrafting is simple: save everything. Drafts can be stored (whether on paper or computer) as separate documents, e.g. ‘Story About Dog #1’, ‘Story About Dog #2’, ‘Story About Dog #78’, but if a piece is very short, such as a lyric poem or a piece of flash fiction, it’s easier just to start a new page within the same document for each new draft. Keeping all the old drafts makes it much easier to be brave at deleting and editing because if you change your mind you can always go back to the previous version.
Sometimes you might think a piece doesn’t need editing. This is unusual, but not impossible. Some writers do a considerable amount of redrafting in their heads, so what comes out on paper is a fairly advanced version. If you really think a piece has poured onto the page in its finished form, then put it away for a week or two (and longer if possible) and return to it with ‘fresh eyes’. If you still can’t see anything that needs to be changed, try showing it to a trusted reader. Preferably someone honest and supportive, not someone who’ll gush over its brilliance or trash your creation under foot.
At times you may fear you’ve made a piece worse by redrafting it – this is possible, but a problem which is easily solved if you’ve kept your old drafts. Nor is this time wasted: it can be helpful to have it confirmed you were already on the right track.
So how do you actually go about redrafting? Here are a few steps which you may find helpful:
1) Spell-check and then print out your work: many people find it much easier to spot things on paper than on screen. Read it through once without editing to get a feel for its shape, then read it again, this time making annotations. Reading aloud can be really beneficial too as it gives you a sense of the rhythm of a piece, whether poetry or prose.
2) Spell-check your work yourself and also check your punctuation and grammar. The spell checker on your computer won’t necessarily pick up every mistake, especially if you’ve accidentally written ‘hi’ for ‘his’ or ‘her’ for ‘the’ etc.
3) Cut out clichés and any hackneyed phrasing. For specific guidance on this, see Barbara’s excellent recent blog post on this topic here.
4) Cut extraneous words, including:
i) Adjectives: often necessary but keep them to a minimum and make them work hard for you. If you’ve written ‘her skin was dry and papery’, remember ‘papery’ has the connotations of ‘dry’ anyway. Consider whether you really need both.
ii) Adverbs: if your verb is right you’ll rarely need one. No need to ‘whisper quietly’, whisper is a quiet action. Likewise, no need to say ‘she ran quickly’ either, although ‘she ran slowly’ is another matter!
So far, so straight forward. But there may be bigger issues that need addressing. If you’re writing a poem, perhaps you’ve chosen short line lengths, when longer ones would suit the material better. If you’re writing a story, perhaps you have a character who just isn’t coming to life yet. Or perhaps you’ve set the story in a rainy seaside town when it’s crying out to be transported to the Bahamas (aren’t we all?). In my next two blogs I’ll focus on some more specific aspects of redrafting, focusing on poems and short stories respectively.