The Fun of Rewriting
I’ve got a book-length nonfiction manuscript which I’ve worked over several times. It’s been carefully copy edited and now it’s in one of the final stages of typesetting. I’m carefully reading this typeset version of the manuscript and marking only the most important changes. It’s (likely) my final sweep through this particular book before it gets into print.
At the same time, my editor/ publisher was reading through the manuscript. He raised several important questions in the big picture of the manuscript. I ask myself a natural question, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
He called several things to my attention but the one worth mentioning involved the time line for the overall book. In this book, I include stories about a number of my personal experiences in publishing. Throughout the book, I used phrases like recently or last year or ???. My original intention was to show timely stories that are current. This type of sensitivity to time is important in nonfiction magazine writing. Magazine writing is often tied to a time and place. If you write for the newspaper, it’s even more tied to time and a place. It’s different in a book. The addition of these words fail to account for the longevity of books. I want this book to stay in print for many years. Will the story with “recently” or “last year” be relevant or dated in five or six or sixteen years? My editor’s question was an important one and I’ve been carefully rewriting each of these stories to make the stories timeless. Because this version will be the last one I see before it as a printed book.
That’s one of the advantages of an editor. These skilled professionals approach a manuscript with a new set of eyes and call your attention different situations. Don’t beat yourself up about what you missed in your initial submission—but press on and get the changes done. Editors are to be blessed and appreciated for their efforts. For some books I’m the editor and for other books I’m the writer. I’ll admit some times I feel like yelling at them and chaffing at the work and changes they are suggesting. Some writers resist the editorial process to the point they become known as someone “difficult.” I don’t want to fall into that category (written or unwritten) with the editor. I tend to have the resisting feelings, walk around my office alone, yell (if necessary), then return to my desk and do exactly what the editor has asked me to do. These types of writers are the professionals. They understand they have to pick and choose their battles in this rewriting process—and that the editor has new eyes and a different, valued perspective.
If you are perfectionistic about your writing, you have to learn to let go. If you are sloppy about your writing, you have to learn to be more professional. Balance is the key. Learning that right moment to let it go and move on through the process. It’s a learning experience for each of us. I’ve got a few more pages to check and rewrite, then the book will be ready to move into the next stage of the process.
I love the journey of this process—but I don’t have much fun rewriting. At times, it’s tedious but I’m committed to quality and producing the best possible end product. As I rewrite, I’m focused on the reader and the end result. It’s worth the effort.