Wednesday, February 6, 2008


by Cricket McRae

I’m in rewrite mode on my third Sophie Mae Reynolds Home Crafting Mystery, tentatively titled Spin a Wicked Web. My deadline looms, and I’m tweaking everything from pacing to word choice to sentence rhythm. It’s tedious, exacting, and requires that I alternate between tiny detail and big picture decisions several times each hour.

My vision is blurry from staring at the computer monitor, I have a college ruled binder full of scribbled notes with priority numbers assigned to each one so I don’t forget anything (a holdover from the bug lists of my computer software days), and if it weren’t for the elliptical trainer in the room next to my office, my butt would be the same size as my desk chair.

The desk chair’s pretty big.


I absolutely love it. There’s something about the rewrite process that obsesses and sooths me at the same time.

The first draft? For me it’s all about making footprints on that pristine snowy field. Clomp, clomp, clomp. Not all that pretty, but progress nonetheless. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott says you have to be willing to write a shitty first draft. Apparently I’m not only willing, but able.

Rewriting is fun, though. The book feels like a whole different being, full of life and intensely real potential. The first draft is making the clay: dirt and water and hope. Rewriting is fine tuning the details of the sculpture.

Oh, I know. Everyone else writes perfect prose from the get go, polishes minor glitches as they write, and could publish any piece of their book with five seconds notice once they’ve moved on to the next bit.


Okay, maybe not everyone. But I do know people who work very successfully like this. I’m friends with them despite that.

Are you a rewriter, creating and editing mulitple drafts? A perfectionist from page one? What’s your favorite part of the writing process?


Keith Raffel said...

Without doubt my favorite part of the process is not writing, but having written!

Joe Moore said...

Nice post, Cricket. I read somewhere that Ernest Hemingway once told to George Plimpton during an interview that he rewrote the ending to "A Farewell to Arms" 39 times before he was satisfied. Plimpton asked him why so many rewrites. He said because he wanted to get the words right.

Like the saying goes, Writing is Rewriting. For me, the writing part is a bit more painful than a root canal without Novocain. Rewriting is where the real fun and the true craft takes place. If only we could start out with a first draft rather than a blank screen.

Mark Combes said...


I'm totally with you! The first draft is like Joe says - a bad trip to the dentist. But I know that now and I, like you say, clomp through the snow and get a prose outline down and then I can enjoy the REAL writing.

Mark Terry said...

My favorite part of the writing process is cashing the check, but after that...

I like writing, but I wouldn't say it's easy. It always seems like the story is "just over the hill" and I have to push to the top somehow to get moving on it. Once I get going, I'm fine, but that initial "shoulder to the boulder of the story" part can be tough.

Rewriting, to extend the metaphor, tends to suggest to me, at least, that it's all downhill. The trickiest part isn't adding or deleting scenes, but when someone comes along and says, "I think you really need to flip chapters 42 and 43." And you do and then everything goes haywire. In that situation, I feel like I'm juggling those boulders.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Although I agree whole-heartedly with Mark T. about the check cashing, my favorite part of the process is the final editing - the last paragraph-by-paragraph, line-by-line, word-by-word go through before I send it to the publisher.

My method doesn't include multiple drafts. I work best with rolling edits. I write several chapters, then hone them until they are as good as I can make them at that point, before moving on. Write a few more chapters and tighten those. About 2/3 of the way through, I go back to the beginning and do another tight edit before finishing the last 1/3 of the book. It's what works for me.

Candy Calvert said...

I, too, love revisions best of all. That's likely because I get to know my characters so much better by the end of the first draft. Then it's so fun to go back and re-write the thing the way they've "taught" me to.

For me, revisions and rewriting are like being Edward Scissorhands, snipping, snipping, snipping!

Cricket McRae said...

It's nice to know I'm not alone in finding first drafts difficult! I wonder how much of that has to do with all the options that are still available at that stage. Once the first draft is written at least the fictional world has some edges.

Root canals and boulder juggling notwithstanding...

Sue Ann, I like your method of rolling edits -- I do something like that when I'm writing the first draft. It keeps me from having to rework too much later.

Southern Writer said...

Love your title.

Am I a re-writer? I think I'm on my tenth draft. Sigh.