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  • Jack McDevitt

Blog #6

Robert Heinlein once said that a professional writer shouldn’t go back over his work doing rewrites. It’s a waste of time. Submit the first draft and let the editor worry about the details, remove whatever needs to come out, and make the necessary insertions. The writer has more important things to do. I guess that’s okay if you happen to be Robert Heinlein. My experience has been that first drafts are disasters. I’d be embarrassed to have any of them show up in print in their original form. The work is clumsy, sentences go on and on, there’s too much repetition, and a lot of the material is in conflict with earlier statements. A character who sat down a few lines earlier takes a seat again. The dinners arrive before the drinks. Words are misspelled. ‘Absolutely’ appears three times in four sentences. Conversations are marked with too much use of ‘he said.’ I do not need to state who is speaking every time someone says something. Most times, it should be obvious who is speaking so we can skip an identifier altogether. On other occasions, as for example when several people are talking, it works better to have the speaker simply do something rather than use the ‘she said’ identifier. For example: Priscilla stared up at the quarter moon. “So where do we go from here?” The bottom line is that if we’re serious about selling the manuscript, we need a sharp, precise piece of writing. We are trying to create an emotional experience for the reader, and if we screw up the writing, constantly reminding the reader (or the editor) that he’s seated at a desk in an office instead of standing on a mountaintop watching a quarter moon, our chances of getting the sale are going to diminish considerably. The reality is that even years after publication, I can’t go over my work without seeing something that should have been done differently. It seems to be a reality that no matter how hard I try, I can always find a way to improve things. And it’s not just me. It’s an experience writers and artists share. It’s why they lock the Louvre at night.

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