When I first started out as a writer, I never thought I’d be a rewriter. In fact, twenty years ago if you had told me that I’d be a writer of anything except business letters or the occasional thank-you note, I would have laughed at you. And I’d have good reason, I was in construction, I worked with my hands, I built things, real things. I didn’t sit around writing all day.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my experience as a contractor would be invaluable to me as a writer, check that, a rewriter. I know. On the surface, it doesn’t make sense and I’ll tell you honestly, I didn’t put the pieces together for years. It wasn’t until a friend of mine who was critiquing my work, happened to mention offhanded, that I write in layers. We were talking about writing styles and she said that mine was like layers of an onion. And then she asked me how I did it. I was truly lost for an answer because I had no idea what she was talking about—and I told her so.
At first, I think she thought I was being evasive, but the topic came up often and my answer was always the same. She wasn’t being pushy about it or anything, but her inquiries got me thinking, maybe too much. I really didn’t have an answer and . . . I don’t know if this is going to make sense to anyone, but I didn’t care that I didn’t have an answer. That’s the thing that bothered me the most, and it caused me to think even more.
You see, I’m the type of person who needs to understand how the things in my life work. The phrase “it just is” drives me up the wall; I need to know why it just is, except when it comes to my writing. Eventually, my friend got tired of asking and concluded for herself, that my style was purely an organic process. Again, a statement like that about anything else except my writing would drive me crazy. But in this case, it served as the perfect answer. To this day, I still use it and people accept it as gospel. Personally, I wouldn’t if I was the one asking about someone’s style or process, and maybe that’s why I’m writing this blog. By the way, for those who don’t know, style and process are two different things.
So, here it is for anyone who’s interested. First, I’m going to address process because it’s the easiest, the mechanics behind my style. I get up in the morning and go into my office, sit down in front of my computer, and start writing. I do this every morning. That means seven days a week. Excuses are for other things, writing in the morning comes first. Everyone who knows me knows not to try and contact me until after lunch. If they call before that, they get my voicemail. You want an example of organic? That’s it. And guess what? It’s fun.
If you write the way I do, it doesn’t take long before you have a whole bunch of shit that most people wouldn’t pay a penny to read. Think of it as a huge construction site so completely littered that you can’t take a single step without walking on something. Many of those things are hazardous, like a 2×4 with random nails sticking out of it. Ouch! Then, there’s OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Believe you me, if you let your construction site get as bad as I describe and OSHA hasn’t already written a citation, they will, and you’ll get a visitor or two, and it won’t be cheap.
So how does this all relate? Here’s a simple illustration. In construction, you go ahead and put in place policies and procedures to address the problem, and then assign people to carry them out. For our little scenario, three to five laborers and a hand full of dumpsters should suffice, when the clutter builds up, they get rid of it. Cleaning (putting refuse in the dumpster) and organizing (making sure that tools and machinery are properly secured), is what the last half hour of every workday is used for, and one of the best ways to keep OSHA at bay.
In writing, it’s the same thing, only I’m the laborer, the dumpster is my delete key, and rewriting is my procedure. It’s what has to happen before I make things right, and that’s when my writing style, the style of layers, begins to take shape. I suppose that in order to complete the analogy, I need an OSHA equivalent but fortunately for us writers of fiction, censorship is still limited. Let’s hope it stays that way.
I used to dread the thought of having to rewrite everything I already spent days, weeks, and even months writing. Now, I not only rewrite, I do it all the time. I don’t dread it; I look forward to it—making it right is fun too.
PS – I rewrite twice as much as I write. Just kidding, it’s more like four times as much—okay, five . . .