How do you know when you are learning how to write better? When you read something you wrote in the past and know with no doubt you can do better today.
My August novel is a revision of an old western I wrote last year, maybe two years ago. I honestly cannot remember when I first drafted the story. I like the story and always had it pegged for publication this year.
In my mind’s eye, the story was pretty decent coming in around 16,000 words long. I thought it a tad too short to call it a novel, so I knew I wanted to revise it, expand it in places, and thicken up the prose.
I read through the draft as it was, making notes along the way, but did little in the way of refining the prose. I wanted to get a good pass through it, see how the story played, and remind myself of how my past self wrote the story. I saw the holes in the story quite clearly, and, most importantly, I knew how to shore them up.
My technique for re-reading an old story might be unique. I have a paper copy in front of me. I have a notepad and a pencil. I mark up the draft along the way and make notes of things to do. But I also am hooked up to my dictation software. Every time I finished a chapter, I would dictate the action of the chapter. By the end of the draft, I not only have a marked-up hardcopy but I also have a new outline of the tale complete with extra notes. All with little effort on my part (because talking is much easier than writing it all out).
Finally, it came time to start to go through the draft and add in the things the story needed. And here is the crucial lesson I learned in this process: I ended up rewriting each chapter from scratch.
I had two screens up: one was my current Scrivener file and the other was the original chapter in a separate window. Instead of reading and adding words here or there, I ended up typing the content over again. In this manner, if my 2017 brain started going off on a tangent, adding more detail or different bits of dialogue, I would just go with the flow.
I found it incredibly liberating. I had my original, but I was creating something almost completely new, albeit with some words I had previously written. All chapters were edited and revised, some more than others. I’ve already written three brand-new chapter. The story was only seventeen chapters to begin with. I’m halfway done and and I’m already up to twenty-one.
But what made me feel good as a growing and learning writer was to recognize how my old prose didn’t cut it in 2017. I frowned at a few passages and winced at others. Why? Because I am a more seasoned writer.
Now, I fully expect Future Scott, in 2027, to read this book as it will be published this year and find a few passages in which he will wince. But he’ll be a more seasoned writer than I am right now.
Because writing is an ever evolving profession.
When y’all revise an old story, do y’all rewrite from scratch, rewrite using the old words, or merely hunt and peck certain passages, adding words here and there?