Today’s writing quote comes from well-known historical fiction writer James Michener. Let’s dispense with the formalities, and get to the quote:
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.
Yeah. What he said. This quote interested me this week because I was thinking that, although I’ve gotten a little better at my first-draft, first-pass attempts at writing stories over the past several years, where I’ve really improved in my skill is in rewriting. I’ve developed a more critical eye. I can better diagnose what’s wrong with a story. And I can prescribe a viable solution. And I can write it.
This, I think, will be the skill that will most contribute to the potential I have for an eventual career as a writer.
Take, for example, the short story I will (hopefully) be sending off to a publisher in a few days for editorial consideration. I wrote the original draft about three and a half years ago, give or take. I thought it was a pretty good story, at the time, but I never sent it anywhere. I picked it up again when Dear Wife encouraged me to take a story that I thought was in good shape and give it some revision to spruce it up a little and send it off. We both expected this could be accomplished in the amount of free time I might have over a holiday month between semesters.
But upon actually rereading and considering the thing, I realized it needed a lot of work. And I’ve put a lot of work into it. It’s like a whole new story. There was very little from the original draft that was immediately salvageable. But that draft provided a good starting point, and new ideas fleshed the story out and made it much better, in my opinion. The story I wrote 3-ish years ago? It was unpublishable. The story I have now? May be the best piece of fiction I’ve ever completed.
This worries me a little about the new story I hope to start work on soon, “What Happened in August Valley”. I’ll be writing this one from scratch, not working from an old draft. (I have several old drafts of stories that I want to work on and rewrite, but I feel strongly about doing this one, first.) So, whereas the story that’s going out this week went through 3 or more drafts (depending on how you count) this one is starting brand new from rough draft, and may only get a single revisionary draft, depending on my ability to get some good feedback.
Regardless… I think there’s a lesson here for my future. I’m excited to be developing this skill, and hope to be able to continue to put it to good use.