I read somewhere that most novels go through ten re-writes before being published. When I read that statistic, I almost quit writing for a more lucrative field, like greeting people at Walmart.
Ten re-writes? Really? I still think that’s a bit extreme but that number worked its way around my psyche until I figured something out. If a story might be re-written ten times, more or less, why not use that fact to my advantage? So I tried something and I’ve been doing it ever since.
I write the story. The story. Not the characters, not the background. Just the story. Only when I’m done do I consider what kind of story I’m writing. Romance? Mystery? Thriller? Mainstream? After remembering what kind of story I started out to write, I re-read the whole thing and insert what’s needed to make it become the kind of story it should be.
If it’s a romance, then every so often I’ll insert a sentence or two to add a bit of romantic interest. Occasionally that sentence or two becomes a whole new scene. Sometimes not. Whatever the result, those re-written sentences add a subtle something that reminds the reader that this is not just a story, it’s a particular kind of story. This becomes especially true if what you are adding doesn’t contribute to the flow of the story. Sex scenes. Car chases. Descriptions without action. Soliloquies. Background information.
I’ve since learned that many writers do this. And here I thought I was unique! I’m not, I’m just one of many writers who learned how to write by writing.
The only caveat to doing this is to not let it take over the book. Remember that you’re fleshing out a situation, not stopping the action completely. Usually a sentence or two will do the trick. If you find you are writing an entire scene, then go back later and make sure you didn’t add too much.
And guess what? Reading the story that third time to make sure your re-writes were appropriate becomes re-write number three. And so on, until you stop because if you read it one more time you’ll puke. And you realize that you’ve gone through the whole thing more times than you’d have thought possible when you put that first sentence on the page and ten re-writes begins to look almost normal.