The Importance of Rewriting

Nabakov, best known for his work Lolita said ‘One cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.’ He goes on to explain his belief: ‘When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. ‘

I agree with this in a lot of ways, but I think it applies even more to the process of WRITING fiction as opposed to reading it. The complex work that a writer has to do is impossible to complete successfully at the first write. Creating characters who are believable and authentic, putting them in situations that challenge them, resolving their dilemmas, while providing a satisfying read -psychologically, emotionally and intellectually – is a demanding exercise. Sometimes it’s only when the story is written that an author can say ‘Now I understand what I wanted to write’.

The process of writing and rewriting is multi-layered:

  • to understand the idea underpinning the story
  • to create and develop characters to ‘live’ that idea
  • to devise situations of conflict that are believable in a character’s world
  • to generate the cause and effect stepping stones of the plot
  • to provide an opening that ‘hooks’ and an ending that satisfies
  • to describe realistic settings

… the process goes and on.

Without significant rewriting/redrafting, there will always be weak bits, shaky structures, undeveloped characters, inconsistent plots, less than compelling writing.

It’s painful, but it has to be done. Drafts. Almost a writer’s medals, badges of honour, for injuries sustained in the rewriting process. ‘Ten drafts? That’s nothing! I’m on my sixteenth.’

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