Getting the words right.

'Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.'

Hemingway making his 38th revision.

Hemingway making his 38th revision.

Hemingway is one of my favourite writers. Achieving his pared back style took a lot of work, 39 revisions for the last page alone. 

I know exactly how he feels. Having written five novels now, I've come to the conclusion that all writing is rewriting. It's that process of constantly searching for the right words in the right order with the right rhythm, which makes something sing off the page. When I was working in advertising, I would sometimes write a single line over 100 times until it felt right, driving my co-workers mad. But if it was going to be done, it was going to be done properly.

Now I don't suggest you do this with every line of your novel. Sometimes you have to say to yourself enough is enough. There is the law of diminishing returns when the amount of work required to change something is not reflected in any improvement in the finished piece. 

When you get to that point, STOP. Say thank you very much and start a new project.

Perfectionism is a disease that has no cure. The more perfect something has to be, the less perfect it will always seem.

I've never thought anything I've ever done was perfect. Simply because, once I believed that, there was nothing left to achieve. Perfectionism is like nirvana -  to be strived for rather than attained.

That should not stop you from rewriting though. Go through that process of creating the plot and looking for holes. Fleshing out the characters so that they are tangible. Finding a voice for each character so that their dialogue seems unique and believable. Digging out and illuminating those themes that hide in the background like shadows. And finally. always finally, checking grammar, word choice, syntax, dangling modifiers, weasel words, and all the rest of the technical stuff that makes or breaks a novel.

I'll be illustrating a few tips and tricks that i've discovered for the last of these in the next post.

In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend. And to all my friends in Singapore, happy 50th anniversary!!!!