Rewriting and its Strange Parallel to Project Runway, by Alane Ferguson
Okay, I admit it. I LOVE Project Runway, especially when they require their poor contestants to make an outfit out of some ungodly product, like lettuce or garbage or maybe chicken soup. For the uninitiated, Project Runway showcases up-and-coming designers who have yet to break into the fashion world. The show begins with a dozen or so designers/contestants, and week by week the judges whittle that number down to a lucky three. The final trio goes on to compete in the very prestigious New York Fashion Week, after which the judges crown an ecstatic winner. So how does this relate to me as a writer and the act of revision? Believe it or not, the parallel is a strong one. I’m thinking in particular of the infamous ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, which consists of the contestants removing their jeans, skirts, shirts, jackets – whatever they happened to have on when the challenge was announced – and then remake those materials into something new and amazing. It’s hard, painful work, and yet, when they are finished and their models walk down the runway, the transformations are incredible! The new creations are almost always better than the original. And that reminds me an awful lot of something that is the backbone of what we writers do: revision.
Right now, I am deep into a revision for The Dead Giveaway, the fifth book in my forensic series. With my editor’s notes at my side, I’ve spent day after day with the equivalent of a seam ripper, that small, pointed tool that cuts through a garment’s threads. Like the Project Runway contestants, I take my metaphorical ‘ripper’ and unstitch scenes I’ve previously sewn together, line by line, word by word. My chapters are like pieces of fabric scattered across the floor, just waiting to be re-stitched into something better. Sometimes, scenes end up getting tossed completely. As an example, I just (sob) cut an entire chapter out of my novel because I found it to be redundant. So far, in this revision, a new character has been introduced, forty-plus scenes have been rearranged, and a new ending has been sewn (I mean, written) in. Do I like this part of the writing process? Honestly, in a word, no. But it is essential, because it is my job as an author to listen to my editor, who has a fresh eye, and then make my work the best that it can be.
It’s a given that my writing makes sense to me, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into clarity for my reader. All professional writers know and accept this. So I weigh my editor’s words very carefully. Most suggestions are incorporated, some are not, but a revision always takes place. Like the Project Runway designers, I take the individual pieces of my novel and re-form them into something tighter, and, hopefully, something better. It’s exactly like the ‘clothes-off-your-back’ challenge, except that mine consists of scenes instead of cloth, words instead of thread. When I send my novel down the proverbial runway, I always hold my breath with the hope that the judges (in this case, my readers) will like the finished product. The published novel represents a lot of work, lost sleep, and creative blood. To all of you who would like to write your own novel someday, remember that this, too, will be part of your job. When you face the daunting task of reworking your words, don’t despair. Take a look at ‘the-clothes-off-your-back’ challenge and see the possibilities. Then roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, and get to work!