Okay, you’ve written your first draft, and you’re really proud of the words you’ve set down. You may think that they’re unchangeable. After all, these are your words. However, your work is not yet a published book. It’s only a flow of words that will likely need to change a number of times before it’s actually published. It may need rewriting.
The first draft is not the final proofread copy
Trying to hold on to certain words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, etc. is probably ineffective. It can be limiting to hold onto words as if they were fixed in stone or cast in concrete.
There’s a difference between putting words down on paper and polishing those words for a finished product. No sentence should escape your eye when you’re trying to communicate your message, whether it’s a work of fiction or non-fiction. And yes, that takes some effort, and it’s probably more drudge than the fun of creating the original.
The power of rewriting
This is the stage of writing where you get to improve the first words you dashed out into well-crafted sentences, ones that fit each other in terms of flow and rhythm, ones that convey your message or story most effectively. None of your text should be exempt from this critical review.
Openings and closings
Anyone who’s written a work that’s longer than a paragraph knows that the opening section (e.g., Introduction) or opening line of a section is critical to “hooking” a reader. And writers often spend hours or days working on these lines.
However, it’s often true that by the time the entire work is complete, those lines may no longer fit the finished text. You may need to skip achieving “perfection” on the first round of these openings, write the entire work, then take a critical look at those openings. Maybe only one word needs to change, or maybe it needs to be made bolder or less bold. Maybe some words from the body of the text would now serve better.
The same is true with the closing section or line of text. Does it summarize your message? Does it provide the right moral to the story (like Aesop’s Fables)? Is the tone or voice right?
Some changes you may need to make
- Improve word order to create an effective flow and rhythm
- Eliminate weasel words and favorite words that you use over and over; likewise, eliminate old and tired clichés
- Remove words that have a weak meaning in their context; get rid of repetitive words, phrases, sentences, etc.; use more specific words; use strong verbs and modifiers
- Shorten or lengthen sentences; tighten them by removing unnecessary words; make sure that the tempo is right
- Improve clarity—you’re painting a word picture that needs to be clear and in focus
- Adapt to changes you make to surrounding text
- Either remove departures or deviations from the main line of thought or make sidebars out of them (i.e., don’t lose your readers); this is true of overlong descriptions
In the course of going from a first draft to a final copy, every manuscript needs rewriting—there’s nothing that, by definition is unchangeable. Rewriting may not be as creative or glamorous as generating the first draft, but it’s what distinguishes professional writers from amateurs.
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