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How to Write: Lessons 13-14
Lesson 13: Rewrite, Lesson 14: Language
Lesson 13: Rewrite
If lesson one was talking is writing, good writing is rewriting. Some sentences come out perfectly right away. Don’t mess with them. But if there's something wrong with a sentence, rewrite it. Rewrite it 20 times if you have to. And when it says what you want to say the way you want to say it, then you can leave it alone and work on the next one until you get a whole paragraph right, and a chapter, etc. Then leave that alone until you've finished the whole book.
That's when the fun starts.
Go back. Start all over. At least this time you'll have a vague idea of what the book is about. You might have to add a chapter or two; you might have to get rid of chapters. You might have to change the structure. Once you get a better idea of what's going on, rewrite it again. Start with sentences. Make each one go with the new, overall concept. Things change. Change with them. After you've rewritten the whole thing, read it out loud. See what your mouth has to say about the way it's written. Get rid of anything you have a hard time reading out loud. It’s not you. It’s wrong. It doesn’t fit. Change it. Get rid of it. Rewrite it again. And finally, when you're completely sick of it, do something else. Let it sit. Then rewrite it one more time and quit. You're done.
Then go back and rewrite the whole thing again. And again. You’ll keep finding better ways of saying what you want to say. Finally, after you get the galleys and input from a regular editor and a line editor, rewrite it one more time. When it's out of your hands, it's really done. And when you get your copy of the real book, you're still going to find things you should've changed but, by then, it’s too late.
All the stuff I’m saying in these “How to Write” lessons, for instance, I’m going to change the crap out of when I rewrite them. The edit function on this platform makes that easy…and fun. Use it.
Lesson 14: Language
This is different from "voice." First it has to do with phonetics: glottal stops, labial machinations, etc. Make sure you use words that go together and sound slick. There are all kinds of poetical things you can do with language. Do them. Keep in mind that the entirety of the sentence has to make sense first and address the phonetic and poetical stuff second. When you read it out loud, see how your mouth reacts. If the language gets all tangled up, you've done something wrong. Try to get all of those things working at the same time so it sounds slick and makes sense.
Second, make sure the word you use means what you want it to mean. Look at a Thesaurus if you have to. Thousands of words will change during the rewrites, and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. Let them. It's your thing, let it do what it wants to do. Don't take any advice unless it suits you. Don't let an editor bully you into doing something stupid. He or she knows your work only slightly. You know it intimately. Make the editing process interactive. Keep in mind that the editor is getting paid to make money. That’s his or her main concern. Don’t do anything an editor thinks will make money. What makes money is stupid, dumb-ass shit that doesn’t belong in a book. If an editor comes up with something good, use it, but use it in your own way. In Chapter 23, for example, here's something I let an editor have a hand in fixing:
"A little hippie chick in granny glasses threw a stick for the Golden Retriever to chase through the purple haze of dope and patchouli oil that was rising up like the Jimi Hendrix song playing on the little hippie chick’s little hippie radio."
His initial suggestion was okay, but it wasn’t me saying it. Thanks to him, I knew there was something wrong with the sentence, so I fiddled with it some more and came up with what I came up with.