I know, right? I’ve already posted How To Finish and then I add this anticlimactic dose of more work. In my defence – welcome to reality. If you want your work to reach others via reputable platforms then you will be dealing with various gatekeepers in your chosen genres. The point where you think you’ve finished and the point where your gatekeeper agrees may well differ. Sometimes this will feel at least a little lousy. Trust me on this, though – you should almost always actually be feeling grateful.
Your work is supposed to be for other people, not you. If a professional with no axe to grind is offering you notes, then rejoice: they are giving you what you can never fully have – another eye. The more money is involved in your form, the more axes will come out of the armoury, for sure, but working with people who just want what’s best for your writing will teach you how helpful advice operates and how to avoid anything else. In film and TV you’ll generally have very little power and may even have to walk away to preserve the quality of your work, but discovering when and why you’ll do that is also grimly useful.
The more you can drive yourself to rewrite before you submit, the better your work will perform. The more finished it is, the better your piece will advocate for itself and guide its own improvements in useful directions. Bear in mind that, in these days of shrinking budgets and personnel, the tasks of literary editing and even copyediting will often now fall to you. Incorporating that in your practice will help your pieces thrive when they meets the world.
Exogenous requests for rewrites give you an opportunity to adapt and improve your writing methodology. A lead actor may go into rehab, a word limit may collapse, a location may have to be changed, any real world event may mean you have to ditch something, and those problems have to be solved – by the writer. In a way, your novel/story/film/play/poem is your solution to the problem of how to say what you need to now, to strangers.
Experience of problem solving allows you to learn how to be robust and effective as a writer. It also teaches you to be appropriately merciless with yourself. Narratives can wander, tiredness can hit you, as can hurry. Seductive ideas like this’ll do, or well, my mum liked it (no, she didn’t) can tempt you to settle for less than the best you might push yourself to achieve. Yet you will learn most when you’re up and out of your usual, safe trench, operating in the exhausting no man’s land of rewriting, pursuing excellence and nothing but. (And no one is really shooting at you.)
Rewriting is the process within which you will truly teach yourself to be the writer only you can be – it lets you be unique. Buckle up, embrace it and, when you’ve overcome every challenge, you’ll be the writer your next project demands. Enjoy. Onwards.
This article is from a series of ‘How To...’ guides for emerging and developing writers, written in 2018/19 by A. L. Kennedy.
A. L. Kennedy was born in Dundee in 1965. She is the author of 17 books: 6 literary novels, 1 science fiction novel, 7 short story collections and 3 works of non-fiction. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She was twice included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list.
Her prose is published in a number of languages. She has won awards including the 2007 Costa Book Award and the Austrian State Prize for International Literature. She is also a dramatist for the stage, radio, TV and film. She is an essayist and regularly reads her work on BBC radio. She occasionally writes and performs one-person shows. She writes for a number of UK and overseas publications and for The Guardian Online.