Writing Excuses 5.29: Rewriting

We were fortunate enough to record two episodes with Tracy Hickman and Dave Wolverton at Life, The Universe, and Everything XXIX. In this second installment these masters of the craft school us on the subject of rewrites.

We are introduced to terms like “triage editing” and “shotgun editing,” we talk about the difference between what you want to say and how you want to say it, and we have a great time telling stories on the sadly absent Brandon Sanderson, who we all agree to be a brilliant re-writer.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Dragons of the Dwarven Depths: The Lost Chronicles Volume 1, by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss, narrated by Sandra Burr

Writing Prompt: Take the climax of your story and ask yourself what you’ve left out of earlier scenes that might be preventing it from being the best moment of the story. You’ve certainly left SOMETHING out. Go put it in.

Worst Podcast or Panel Etiquette Ever: Taking a phone call from the stage during a recording session in front of a live audience while Tracy Hickman is talking. What soulless knave would do such a thing? Listen and find out…

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33 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 5.29: Rewriting”

  1. Great stuff as always. As an underwriter I always have to move things around on following drafts that I left out in the first one. A bit tedious at times but well worth the effort.

  2. I know the rewrite is there. I know the rewrite is necessary. I know the rewrite is available and can only make my work better. Then why do I have such a hard time allowing myself to let the first draft stink? No matter what, I feel the need to make it “perfect” and it drags me down.

    yhe most efficient time i hav e writing is when the thoughts just come along and i don;t worry bout punction or speling…(boy that last bit was fast!) =)

  3. You people are mind readers. I was about to ask for an episode about this topic.

    Thank you very much. And keep on reading minds (at least mine).

  4. 10 books…really? Oh dear. Another Wheel of Time length epic. Ah well, I’m already more hooked on the Stormlight Archive than I ever was on WoT, so I guess complaining is futile.

    On the topic of the podcast, excellent work, as always. Could do with a bit of audio scrubbing to clear out unintentional audience noise, but that’s a relatively minor issue.

  5. I had a quick question…I recently became obsessed with Writing Excuses, and quickly went through all of Season 5 on ITunes…Is there a way to get back episodes? I saw the links to each individual episode, but I want to put them on my ipod, instead of sitting at my computer to listen to them. Any advice? Thanks!

  6. I know it depends on length but when you have a deadline how much time should you allow for Alpha readers and the kind of rewriting you’re talking about here?

    How about an episode on Alpha readers? Choosing them carefully, what to expect, when to slap them and when to let them slap you, etc.

  7. @Hypatia It’s true that you can only get the most recent 35 episodes from the iTunes store. If you want older stuff we can only offer the tedious method: Go to the home page, use the “archives” part of the right column, and save each episode to your local drive as an MP3.

    (If you right-click on the “audio MP3” icon for each episode there should be an option to “save link as…”)

    If you put all of the MP3s in one place you can then easily drag them onto your iTunes library and import them. They’ll show up on you iPod/iPhone/iPad in accordance with whatever sync options you’ve got selected.

    Why yes, I did do technical support in another life. It’s refreshing to get back to it for about one post per month. :-)

  8. @Hypatia & Howard,
    I’ve done exactly that. Only problem you’ll find is the different ways the mp3’s have been named over time i.e. they’re not going to sit in order in the folder and some are without title descriptions. From memory I think itunes cuts off some of the title as well.

    Well worth the exercise though. You’ll get to hear Howard’s very first “Luxury!”, Brandon’s first “You’re out of excuses now go write”, and the introduction of the writing prompts. Incidently my favourite writing prompt is still Zoo Fight Club where Howards asks you to punch an Elephant – really hard.

    Just did a check and all up there’s almost 2 gigs of goodness waiting for you.

  9. Great show, and very timely for me, as I’m in the first big revision now, with my enormous binder full of notes from the first draft. Sculpting is a very good analogy – I think there’s a three dimensional quality to thinking about a plot structure. I’ve also thought it like throwing a pot on a wheel, everything flows from the foundation. Or painting – laying down broad shapes first and then refining them down, pass by pass. There’ve been a lot of people talking lately about only doing one major draft, which does NOT work for me, so I’m glad to hear some support for multiple drafts.

    Dan, I’d love to hear how your skills have grown between your first book and this latest. What are you doing better now? Or faster and easier? What are you catching now that you missed in the first book? Or can you tell?

    And THAT’S why we haven’t seen the next Schlock book. Well, that’s a good excuse. I will refrain from bombarding Howard with “Is it soup yet?” emails.

  10. @Jay
    I have exactly the same issue. In fact, when Dave Wolverton (?) talked about his friend who sent a ‘manuscript’ that was really just forty different openings for a novel, my reaction was pretty much, “Yeeeeeup, that’s what I’m doing…” It can be really, really hard to get past the beginning, I find, because I’m constantly thinking, “No, this doesn’t match the character’s voice in my head. I don’t think this makes the right promise. I’m not sure this is leading where I want to go. This doesn’t seem interesting enough to make people want to keep reading.”

    So, in essence, I’m rewriting too soon.

    I like the sculpture analogy. Another way of looking at it was provided by Stephen King, who compared it to archaeology. You use big tools to move the rocks and earth away from the item you’ve found, but you don’t use a jackhammer to get the tyrannosaurus skull out of the ground, you use brushes and little picks, etc. From memory he was talking more about the tools of writing themselves, but I think it works well in this context. First draft is the topsoil, the dirt and rocks that are between you and the story. You get that out of the way, and you can go over it carefully, use more refined tools, and get the real story out of the ground.

    Who knows? You might have a full-sized dinosaur skeleton.

  11. Excellent timing on this episode, as I just finished the first draft on my first novel. I don’t know if I’ll have time for it to sit too long, as the window for open submissions for Angry Robot Books is only until the end of March. Need to have the first 5 chapters up to snuff by then. (Or at least readable enough that they decide to take a chance on it.)

  12. Agree with K.W. Ramsey. I’ve just finished on Friday the first draft of my novel, so the fact this episode came out on the monday after a weekend where I just relaxed and didn’t touch it feels like the work of a higher power. :)

  13. Longtime listener, first time poster her.

    Like Michael, I too would like an episode on alpha readers. I’m planning on doing some edits of some of my works based on feedback from my alpha readers but some turned out to give only the “I loved the story” sort of feedback. Nice for the ego, not so nice for the improving the work in the next draft. It would be nice to hear how best to select or coach those readers on giving good feedback that an author can use to improve their craft.

    This episode came at a great time for me guys because I am about to dive into some second and third drafts. Keep up the good work!

  14. Great podcast, it was so much fun live! I can’t wait to listen to next weeks. ;-)

    Rewriting is the hardest part for me. I almost can’t believe some writers do six and seven rewrites. I guess I’ve just got to buckle down and do it.

  15. Alright, so i was just introduced to this podcast maybe two months ago; I started from the beginning and have just reached the final episode as of now. I wanted to say how much this podcast has helped me in my writing. I am amazed with how much information you guys can pack into fifteen minutes (and sometimes how little *wink*). I am only sad that I can’t simply flip on another new episode whenever i want–now I really AM out of excuses to go write. Toward the end, since I spent so much time listening to and talking about the podcast, she asked me to play her one, and now it is something we look forward to listening to together. Keep up the good work.

  16. The “She” in my previous comment is my wife. My editor (my wife) pointed it out to me that I did not actually mention who the pronoun would be referring to. My apologize…apparently I didn’t learn my lesson in revision.

  17. Whenever Dave Wolverton talks, there seems to be more background noise than the rest of you. Does he wear the microphone too far away or talk too soft?

    Jordo Sanderson? Is Jordo Brandon’s brother?

  18. @Johnny

    In reverse order:
    1) Jordan “Producer Jordo” Sanderson is indeed Brandon Sanderson’s brother.
    2) The mic was sitting between Dan and I. Dave Wolverton, who is soft-spoken, was to Dan’s right, and was farther away from the mic than is ideal. What you’re hearing is exactly what we’d expect under these circumstances.

  19. Hi,
    I was wondering if you ever considered doing an episode on dealing with reviewers. I have recently had a very critical, almost cruel, review of one of my short stories by a fairly well known reviewer. Putting aside his snarky comments about vocabulary and plot (which were many). it is obvious from his review that he did not even read the story.
    For example he says it is unbelievable that the main character is never hurt, but in the story the character almost dies from his injuries. It almost like he read someone else’s story and thought it was mine. I would love some advice on this and other issues with book reviewers.

  20. On my last novel, I did a lot of what feels like what you described as triage editing at the outline stage – particlarly in terms of going through the outline and finding the scenes and moments that were ‘missing’. As an outline writer, this seemed like the natural way for me to go about it. Do you think this is a viable way of approaching the triage edit? My early beta feedback has suggested that I’m not missing much.


  21. @Rik? I think revising the outline, especially in terms of order, completeness, and so forth, is fine, especially if it works for you. Certainly easier in some ways than cut-and-paste whole chunks of text, whether the old paper-scissors-hot wax kind or the more recent electronic bit shuffling version. For example, it can be a lot easier to “see” the whole story in outline than trying to lay several hundred pages of text out on the floor :-) I’ve talked with some people who did a discovery writing first draft, then did an outline from that — just so they could see and rearrange it more easily.

    Which is a long way of saying, yes, I think your method works fine.

  22. Thank you thank you thank you! First I danced around the room because you actually did the podcast that I had requested. Me! Then I wept in a corner. Six edits? Eight edits? I haven’t even finished the first draft.
    PS my other idea for an episode was on foreshadowing. Now that I know you lovely people actually listen, you will never see the back of me. Foreshadowing? Foreshadowing? Please?

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