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How to radically rewrite

Word processing has been a gift to writers. No more typing out pages and pages of manuscript, no more Tippex, no more hand-writing until your fingers have grooves. However, the benefits have come at a cost. I think we have become less rigorous in our writing, and we are cheated into thinking our work is better than it is because it always looks finished.

I started thinking about this years ago. I found it was too easy to reread what I had written on the screen and allow it to remain. It was written and it was done, therefore why would I change it?

I started thinking back over how writers wrote before word processing. They wrote out a draft, often in longhand, then re-read it and made corrections on the page. They then rewrote the entire document by hand. When typewriters appeared, they still had to rewrite every draft from scratch.

This meant that each draft was entirely rethought and passed back through the writer’s mind. The selection of every word, every punctuation mark, every line of dialogue, was reconsidered.

Could I honestly say that was the case as I tinkered with an existing page on a screen?

I decided to do an experiment. I took a novel I was writing and instead of opening the document of the existing draft, I opened a new blank document. I used the printed out draft as a guide and rewrote the entire thing. I made more changes as a result, and every single thing in the text was reconsidered.

I don’t recommend that we go back to rewriting every single novel or play each time, but I do recommend that you try this and get the understanding of how it feels to radically rewrite and reconsider. It is good to know when you are tinkering and when you are really rewriting.

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