How many times do you “Shoot” your Novel?

I’m going to dictate this article as part of a new feature in OS X. I’ve tried doing similar things in the past, but now that continuous diction is built-in, I’m going to take another stab at it. So far, so good.

“Shooting” your Novel

In the writing world, there’s a lot of talk about rewriting chapters until you’re happy with them, but I’m not so sure that’s the best way. At least, not for me. Recently, I read a book by Orson Scott Card called “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy”, and he makes an excellent point: If you fiddle and rewrite your story too much, there is the danger of losing its essential aliveness and excitement that is inherent to a first draft.

This struck a chord with me. I’m not saying to eschew the editing process. But I must confess that I have inner conflict about the best way to arrive at a truly compelling blockbuster of a story.

In the film “Midnight in Paris”, the main character is advised by Gertrude Stein about rewrites of the novel he’s working on. In fact, for most of the film he is in the midst of rewriting it. Although, there is no way to know just how much is rewritten, I am nonetheless slightly haunted by the thought of this obsessive rewriting, as my process is quite different.

Stack of The Truth Beyond the Sky books

Don’t get me wrong. I do rewrite. I reorder chapters (especially as I’ve put the finishing touches on Book 2).

I even nitpick at every last adjective. But I very seldom sit down, throw out a chapter, and rewrite all of its scenes unless it was a complete and utter train-wreck.

To be honest, I used to feel guilty about this.

Yet after reading “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy” I felt much better, because I realized something. If you rewrite the same scene over and over, how can you avoid getting utterly bored by the repetition? Maybe this is necessary and even helpful to some writers, but writing is a highly personal act, after all. And seldom do two people have the same process.

So lately I’ve been thinking about writing in terms of shooting a movie.

How enthusiastic would your actor be on the 127th take? How spontaneous would they be? The more I think about it, the more I consider writing the first draft as analogous to shooting the movie itself. I visualize and empathize with the characters in the scene and play it out in my mind. This is just like shooting a scene, but mentally. So it makes perfect sense to me that when I’m editing a piece, my job is similar to that of a film editor. I’m cutting out small pieces, putting in small pieces, and fixing the order of events to create the greatest impact. But I’m not shooting new material.

I don’t know if this paradigm is helpful to you, but once I started thinking about editing in this way, I felt something click in my mind. And somehow, editing feels just a bit easier — just a bit more enjoyable now. 🙂