The first draft is done. The Gravity of Mammon is in cold storage, hung up by its hind legs like fresh deer kill. In a bit, I’ll have to go back and butcher it – skin the sucker, carve it up into tasty roasts and chops, grind up the sausage bits, get it all tasty looking, and then ship it off to crime uber agent Stacia Decker and see if she can’t find it a place in the world.
So let’s talk about the rewrite process. I’ll tell you how I go about it, and if you’ve got any tips, you can chime in.
First, what’s a decent refractory period? I’m still sprawled in the tangled sheets, that sheen of sweat drying on my skin, catching my breath and hoping it was good for you, too. This isn’t the time to go back and evaluate my performance. I need a little distance, a little time. In On Writing, Steven King’s half memoir, half how-to-write book, and the only one of its kind I’ve ever found to be useful, he says finish your draft and then toss it in a drawer for month. Go do something else. Write a short story, start a new project, but do something to clean out the synapses, a little sorbet between courses to cleanse the mental palate.
Now I know me. I’ll never make it for a month. But at least a week or two, yeah. I’ve got to get Mammon off my mind for a bit. I’m reading some Chicago history, trying to get some ideas for the next project. Maybe I’ll jump in on a couple of the flash fiction deals percolating around, maybe whip up a short, try my luck with Needle or Crimefactory or Thuglit or Plots with Guns. I’ve got some backstory work to do on my first novel – what I think of as the epicification process. I’ll spend some time on that. Then it’ll be time to take Mammon down and get to work on it.
Here’s how I go about it. First, I print out a hard copy and just read it, straight through, marking copy edit stuff and with a pad of paper for notes. The copy edits are just the usual– typos, grammar fixes, places where I call a character by the wrong name (anybody else do that a lot? Can’t figure out why I do, but I do). The notes are for bigger issues. I might suggest fleshing out a scene a little more. I might ask myself if I really need a scene. I might make a note that I think there’s a consistency issue I need to check on. Sometimes I have an idea for a little tangent that might be cool. All that stuff goes down on the note pad.
After that first read, then I do a close read. I go through sentence by sentence and I ask myself if I like the sentence the way it is or do I need to do something with it. The good news is that I’ve been writing professionally for a long time, so I write fewer shitty sentences than I used to. I still catch the occasional clunker, though, and there’s always room to tighten up the strings a bit and really make things hum. I think I will have more work to do on this front this time than I had with my last book, though, just because of the whole on-line approach. My usual practice in the past was to go back and read through the last chapter before starting on the next one. It was a way of getting a running start, if you will, getting my brain back into the story. And during that run up, I was tweaking away. But this time, the chapters were already out there. I haven’t been taking that first edit pass through them.
After the close read, there’s always still a bit of heavy lifting. I’ll find a character or a plot line or something that either has to go or has to get beefed up. With me, lots of times, it’s beefing up. I know that the rewrite process is supposed to skinny things down – the second draft should be shorter than the first. And after the first two passes, the copy edit and the close read, I usually am down a bit. But during the third pass, I’m adding more than I’m taking away. I’m finding scenes where I was in too big of a hurry, and I’m building them out, adding the grace notes and detail.
Think of the first scene in Inglorious Basterds, where Hans Landa shows up at that farm and questions the father. Notice how long that scene is? I mean in a lot of movies, Landa would show up, there’s be a two-minute chat, they’d shoot up the floorboards, the girl would run into the woods, bada bing, bada boom. But Tarantino really takes his time with it, drags it out. Not only does that build suspense, but it also is a master class in exposing character. By the end of that scene, you know who Hans Landa is – he’s a flat-out sociopath, sure, but you also feel like you’d really like to hang with Hans, maybe spend a weekend in Vegas with him. Or maybe that’s just me.
After that pass, then there’s the rinse cycle. One more read looking for mistakes, sanding off any rough edges I find. Then one final run with the spell checker because I suck at spelling.
So what’s your process? Any ideas for me?