You’ve finished writing; now the work really begins

A couple of months ago I was taking part in a workshop with that wonderful Newfoundland writer, Donna Morrissey. A novel-writing class with the award-winning author of Sylvanus Now, The Fortunate Brother, and Kit’s Law, was pretty daunting – especially for those of us who’ve spent a lifetime writing a very different type of prose.

Everyone had to submit a story for Donna to critique. No-one escaped. She looked at one contribution, nodded, smiled and offered her opinion:

“There’s something in here. But you’ve written four thousand words. I want you to reduce it to one thousand.”

The gulp of horror echoed off the walls. The student looked pale. “I don’t think I can do that. I’ll lose the story.”

“Trust me. Reduce it to a quarter of its size and you will find the story.”

Donna smiled again. “Trust me. Reduce it to a quarter of its size and you will find the story.”

And that’s the idea I want to share in this blog.

We all get called on to write something from time to time: an outline for a course or speech, promotional material for a website, a brochure or flyer.

We hunch over our keyboards and pound away furiously. We are all busy. There’s always another task waiting for us. So we think and we think and we tap and we tap. And finally, with a sigh of relief, we whack in that final full stop.

Job done. What’s next on the To Do list?

As so we confuse finished with completed. We may have finished writing, but we are nowhere near to completing the task we set ourselves.

‘There’s no such thing as good writing; only good re-writing.”

There’s a great quote by the British poet and novelist Robert Graves: ‘There’s no such thing as good writing; only good re-writing.”

Often, the re-writing is harder than the writing. We fall in love with our words. Like my friend in Donna’s workshop, we’re afraid that we’ll lose the story if we start messing with it. But it’s only when we start digging around in that higgly-piggly, dusty basement storeroom of our first draft that we find the gem that is hidden there.

Only when we find that gem, and polish it, can we truly say our writing is complete and in such a state that nothing further can be done to it.

Donna’s hard-swallowing student accepted the challenge. She reduced the words from four thousand to just slightly over one thousand. The little story is now illustrated, printed, bound and getting happily dog-eared on the bedside tables of the two grandchildren.

So, next time you have a writing project, try this tip. Put as much (and maybe more) effort into re-writing as you did into the initial writing. 

You’ll be delighted by how much clearer the story becomes. How much easier it is to read. How the words somehow seem to stick better in the memory. How much better it is.

And so it should. Because now the task of writing is complete.