Someone once said that you don't become a writer until you learn to rewrite. For most writers rewriting is drudgery. When I first started out I had a bad habit of writing first drafts and then leaving them to sit. Sometimes I went back and other times I didn't. The truth was I didn't want to go back after the thrill ride of the first draft. I felt in some sense I was finished with my novel and that it's merit would shine through to editors. Right.
A hundred rejection letters later I started to buckle down and rewrite. But of course I didn't really know what I was doing. F. Scott Fitzgerald said you don't rewrite to achieve a smooth surface, you rewrite to discover the inner truth of your characters. So I bought a book called Revising Fiction and went to work highlighting all the rules. This began a process that lasted for years. For most writers the rewrite is a long arduous process of cutting, condensing, revising, rewriting. The hard part is to re-imagine your book. In a sense you are starting over, but this time you have a road map.
The terror of the first draft is you have no map and have to hack one out through uncharted territory. The terror of the rewrite is there is a road and you are essentially stuck on it for possibly years. Boredom can become an enemy. In my second novel Tobacco Sticks I rewrote for seven years! Of course, I was learning as I went so it became a crazy process of reaching the end and then realizing the beginning now needed to be brought up to the level of the end. This went on for years.
But there does come a point where you know the book is basically finished. You could tweak your work forever, but that is when you have to know that you are essentially rewriting for yourself. So you finish your rewrite and are free once again to pursue a new first draft. Of course then you will be stuck in another rewrite.
William Hazelgrove's latest novel Rocket Man is due out in September. www.billhazelgrove.com