Re-writing – also known as content editing – is a necessity at some stage of preparing your manuscript. However, there are pitfalls.
Suppose you are writing a novel, and one day it comes to you – the exquisite bit of detail that will make a scene pop or reveal something important about your protagonist’s inner life. You go to your manuscript and insert it just where you think it will do the most good. Then you read a little further and find that your perfect addition was already added one or two drafts ago. Yes, you had a brilliant thought, but you had it before, and yes, you knew where to put it, but with a few paragraph’s difference. Then you have the option of deciding which is the better place for that exquisite piece of prose to go, but it’s still kind of demoralizing.
Or – as just happened to me – you get a great idea for a blog post. You even start drafting it. But something niggles at the back of your brain. It all sounds very familiar. So, you go back to your file of posts and discover that you wrote almost exactly the same post, using almost exactly the same language, two years before. It was good enough that it doesn’t need rewriting, and you’re not so desperate that you re-post previous writing when ideas are thin on the ground. What do you do then?
Obviously, as I have done, you take the situation as a jumping-off point for a new post about re-writing that covers different territory than the old post. And you check your files again to make sure that this one is not a rewrite as well. It may even be a good idea to read over at least the titles on your old blog posts before you begin a new one.
Or you set out in a different direction entirely, one you’ve never explored before. Never write about politics? This may be the time to start. Start a short story instead of a blog post. Begin plotting the sequel to the novel that you’ve been sending around to agents, on the theory that agents and editors love series rather than stand-alone novels. Or try poetry, which you haven’t written since college. Think of it as a way to flex your writing muscles and blow the cobwebs off your brain.
You can also engage in prewriting (which, unfortunately, resembles lying on the couch and staring off into space). Toss ideas around in your head. Brainstorm, without analyzing whether your ideas are spectacular or not. You can even jot down a few of the ones that strike you as most fruitful, but really the exercise is just to get your brain moving. Re-read favorite books and pay attention to why you love them and how the authors made you love them.
Writing prompts and contests are also ways to get your creative juices flowing. Many writing websites feature assorted prompts. Or a question asked or situation described on Facebook may cause you to think, “What would I do in that situation?” or “Gee, that answer stank. Here’s what I would say.” A short story contest might give a list of possible topics. For example, I saw a story contest that proposed a topic of “Write about a new technology that changes a person’s life for good or ill.” I got a story out of it and an honorable mention.
And don’t be afraid if your new idea isn’t something earthshaking or written for the ages. Remember that William Carlos Williams wrote about plums in the icebox and Pablo Neruda wrote “Ode to My Socks.” Both of these are considered classic poems today.
You can also get ideas from the best. What if you had written “Ode to My Socks”? How would it go? What would it reveal? What if you took the premise of Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall” and ran with it? What alternate ending could you invent? At this point, it doesn’t matter if what you write isn’t better than Neruda or Asimov. It’s enough that you’re stretching your brain and your creativity.
Whether you write about something familiar that you may have overlooked, try a new style or genre, or just play with words until some of them magically come together, you are performing exercises in writing. And that’s a good thing.