When writers with Big 5 publishing deals and represented by top literary agents tell you that you need to gut at least 30 percent of your book and add 25,000 words, you should pay attention. Even if the thought of creating another draft makes you want to shut your laptop forever and never write again, and run away to Paris to try your luck at being a tragic painter instead.
I submitted my young adult novel, Death by Society, to three writing contests last summer, hoping to receive accolades or mentorship. Though I didn’t win anything, I received many nuggets of honest feedback that have forced me to take another look at my manuscript. I’m writing my sixth draft now, the fifth since April, based on that feedback.
Wait, six?! Yep. I’ve thrown out at least 100,000 words since I decided to give my book another chance while in Scotland. A year ago, the thought of writing a second draft of Death by Society overwhelmed me. I set the manuscript aside for four years because I didn’t want to face the disastrous first draft I’d created.
But I’m not the same writer that I was back then.
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to sharpen my writing, from becoming a Because Arcadia blogger, to taking intensive writing and sociology courses, to having my novel critiqued extensively. It’s been quite a learning experience. Before, I only created hurried first drafts. The only “editing” I knew how to do was checking for grammar and spelling errors.
Silly me, I thought that my writing was perfect on the first try. I thought that making mistakes and having people (lovingly) tear your novel to shreds meant I was a terrible writer.
I knew nothing of revisiting an idea, rewriting it to clarify and make it better. If a story didn’t work the way I wanted it to, I shelved it permanently, reassuring myself that I could always create better word vomit. The same concept applies to academia. Now that I’m getting deeper into my studies as a sociology major, I need to watch my words and ensure that my theories and concepts are crystal clear. In that way, rewriting is a filter of sorts. You have to write all of the junk, the first drafts, the throwaway quotes, the laughable hypotheses, to get to the pure words that say exactly what you mean.