Schreibtischtäter > Literary writing > Text Layout
Actually, the performance has yet to begin. Writing it down is just the overture. All of what we write needs planning and pruning and, as all writing is rewriting, so all rewriting is another form of writing. `The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof lie detector. This is the writer`s radar and all great writer have had it`. – Ernst Hemingway. Or so you hope. Many of us are wedded to our work even when we know it is under-performing, and that goes for other art forms. Writing of musical composition, Johannes Brahms declared, `It is not hard to compose, but it is wonderfully hard to let the superfluous notes fall under the table.`
Rewriting you work requires a quite different state of mind from creating it from nothing. We work so hard on some sentences that we find it impossible to part with them. Or: we find something inappropriate in one port of our writing, but it glistens too beguilingly. However, we must become self-editors, remembering that striking phrases contaminate with their beauty and we should excise them. Various qualifying word or phrase that distracts the attention of the reader from the book is redundant. Any word or phrase that distracts the reader by its exoticism or literariness is also in peril: clichés, archaisms and inversions must earn their place or suffer deletion.
There are certain simple procedures that all writers can try for themselves. I have already stressed the importance of reading your work aloud. It exposés the errors or niggles of sound and sense; it shows up where your language is force, flaccid or affected. You man als benefit be asking someone else to read your work aloud to you. This offers even greater distance. You should imagine that you are not the author and listen carefully, for where the reader stumbles over words, and make note to rewrite them. A ruthless but useful technique, suggested by Ursula Le Guin in Steering the Craft, is to cut one of your narrative exercises by half: `Severe cutting intensifies your style, forcing you both to crowd and leap`. Begin by cutting every adjective, then adverbs.
Another procedure is to out for where a piece of work begins. You will find the first paragraph or even paragraphs of a piece of nonfiction or fiction redundant. Attempt to mutate your work through various versions. For example, with poetry, try reading the draft from the second line onwards, then a poem backwards, line by line, or stanza by stanza. Mix the stanzas about in different orders. Practice this with something of a cold eye, until you begin to feel the work has some recognizable life. Keep copies of all these mutant versions of the original. Who knows? More than one may be `right`, or even some conflation of two mutant versions. Keep copies of everything: maintain an organized paper trail from first to final draft should you need to salvage something.
Deadlines as lifelines
One huge aid to the writing-rewriting dynamic is the deadline. It forces savage action. Like form or design, the deadline is not a prison to creation. It offers a promised release from the self-created prison of indolence, of not writing. It is as liberating as from, despite the sensation that is makes time weigh upon the act of writing. But that weigh is not just the weight of expectation; it is also the weight of anticipation. Deadlines are good for us, stern though they may seem.
Drafting requires objectivity of a sort, so you may choose to disembody yourself, become impersonal; or even play somebody else, some other writer that is used to overcoming this moment and pressing on with the next draft. You might even view the creative act of drafting as a journalist turning in their copy. Having a real deadline imposed by somebody else in useful here. Writing then becomes a job, not a chore, not yet an art – which is liberating. The reward is completion combined with a fee or, in a student`s case, what you hope will be a good grade. It is tough, in the beginning, to motivate yourself by inventing some reward for completing your work by a deadline. In which case, have someone of their approbation. Writers often use their partners for this role play, especially, if the stakes are high. I know many writers who are unremittingly cruel in this regard. How you do this depend, therefore, upon the trust between you and your challenger and the level of obsession you are able to bring to the table, and the level your challenger is willing to put up with.