Speech and Drama was one of my high school subjects. I looked forward to the June 1999 exam: we had to create our own play. So my friends and I started writing, which means we spent many late nights at Bellville library.
I was intrigued at how they wrote. They wrote as quickly as possible, didn’t bother to correct sentence structures and wrote dialogue that filled many pages.
I questioned my intelligence and felt pressure to be a slam poet. I mean, come on, dialogue just poured out of their pens. So eventually I told them I’d write one scene myself. I didn’t want to write it with them around me; I wanted to write it at home.
Which is what I did. I had more time to write and more time to rewrite. What’s more important than rewriting? The boys didn’t understand my need to rewrite. They thought that writing something once is enough; anything else would be overwriting.
The first draft takes time but it clears my mind. I try to write without thinking. It’s more difficult now that I consider myself a properse writer but I still try to write without editing. So all the cliches come pouring out, the bad sentence constructions flourish and I figure out what I want to say. My tenses get tied and twisted, too. And sometimes they remain that way.
Yes, sometimes I will publish the first draft. Life happens, you know? But I try to let a post sit in the Drafts section for a bit. It’ll stew while I concentrate on other things. Coffee, SATC, Tweet, and reading Middlesex. The other things that make me happy.
So I went home that night and I wrote a scene that made my friends clutch at their hearts the following day. They’re a tad OTT, I know. That scene took me at least 2 hours to write, I’m sure. Not just 20 minutes. I wanted it to be perfect. It wasn’t — of course it wasn’t — perfect but it was better than what the two of them wrote.
But how should you rewrite your work?
Let it stew for a bit
I give you permission to do something else for at least 30 minutes. Take a walk, play with the cat or go stare at Table Mountain. Our company overlooks Church Street in Woodstock so I like to stand on the balcony. Unfortunately this has the potential to cause car crashes.
Do what you have to do but do it responsibly.
Learn or relearn some grammar
Know the difference between Past Simple and Present Perfect Simple so that you can write clearer posts, articles and reports. There are grammar quizzes online and there are many grammar books at your local second hand bookstore. One or two hours [of studying] a week should be enough for you to know the basics.
Know when words look wrong
My spelling sucks. Fine then, my spelling sucks sometimes. But I know when a word looks wrong. And I know how to use the Merriam-Mebster Firefox add-on. It’s awesome. So please download it right now.
It also helps to read. A lot. Online reading counts, yes, but not Yahoo! Live. Read something that will force you to use a dictionary. This is one of the few ways you will learn new words.
Get tighter, leaner and meaner
Forget about those high school essay assignments. Yes, those 1000-word essays on The difference between the X and Y Chromosomes taught you verbosity. Keep sentences short and use few prepositional phrases: your sentences will be easier to read. Try not to start too many sentences with participial phrases, either; these phrases make it easy to use dangling participles and all the action is at the end of the sentence. This isn’t always a good idea.
A few grammar and punctuation ‘rules’ can cause a fight between sub-editors: how to form plurals of single letters; how to form the possessive of words ending in ‘s’; and whether a space should separate an em dash from the next word. Get a style guide to solve these problems. Other issues that you should decide on are which English to use — US or UK — and whether you will use formal or informal English.
Let someone else read your work
Just suck it up. The person who reads your work will see things you didn’t see on the third or even fourth reading. Our brains are trained to ignore errors in our own work; we see what we expect and ignore everything else.