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The Red Pen

"Books aren't written - they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it" Michael Crichton


As a lawyer I learnt that the Civil Procedure Rules provide that for amendments to Statements of Case: "The order of colours to be used for successive amendments is: (1) red, (2) green, (3) violet and (4) yellow." When I was a pupil barrister I once asked why these colours had been chosen and was told that violet and yellow inks were very hard to find and therefore it was a good idea never to have to amend a Statement of Case more than twice. However, as a writer I find that I am continually amending my writing and this is a necessary part of the writing process.

Everyone has a different way of writing. Some people map out their novel from start to finish before a single word is written. I was once asked how I prepared my 'mood boards?' I look baffled. You will find a thousand courses telling you how to write that great novel which is inside of you. Writing, after all, is an industry. However, the approach I take to writing is as follows:

  1. Work out the basics of the story that you want to tell.

  2. Sit in a room and write the story. Don't worry if the story evolves - that's why we re-write.

  3. Read through the story from start to finish and re-write. If the story evolves in this period then repeat the process.

  4. Send the story to people who like to read and ask them to give you feedback - remember there is no passion in the world equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.

  5. Re-write.

  6. Send it to a developmental editor.

  7. Read through it and re-write.

  8. Send it to a publishing agent.

  9. Read through it and re-write.

After a year or so of re-writing you will have something that is loosely related to your original idea and is nothing like your first draft. I tend to put the 'cuts' in a folder and then see what I can salvage for the next novel.

There are many people who start writing a novel and never get passed the first few pages or first chapter. They need to review and edit that piece of work so that it is 'perfect' before continuing. I have always thought that this approach is doomed to failure as you will never write the perfect opening paragraph or chapter and, even if you did, you will have to change it when you come to the end of the book.

So, I have sent my new novel 'A Remembrance of Death' out to Beta readers and am waiting for some feedback. I have already got some comments back from my wife and guess what? Yes, I am re-writing.

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