When the rewrite time comes, you put your gamer on. You jam the gamer down on your head and set yourself to work. The artiste who wears the beret is to be banned from the premises. The work is no longer golden. You are about to try to coax a book from a pile of unruly sentences. Sentences that merely hold some promise is often the best one can say for them.
A chest protector and a set of shin guards turn out to be helpful. Wristbands not untoward. Spikes not out of the question. Some of the so-called golden work must be thrown out altogether, never to be seen again. Other parts must be strengthened and moved and recast and pounded on with great fury until they are right.
A chapter’s worth of pages must be laid out on a table, and sections and paragraphs and lines are moved from one place to another. Chapters themselves get shifted around in search of the order that works the best.
I have a list of words, lovingly referred to as the search-and-destroy list, that I tend to use over and over—weak verbs, lame adjectives, unclear nouns [or “vague nouns”?]. I go through the entire pile of pages with a fine-tooth comb and a decent thesaurus, eliminating weak words and looking for stronger ones.
This is not work for the faint of heart. This work calls for people who do not mind if their gamer gets dirty and sweat stained and faded. What happens in this stretch often results in more words on the floor than on the page.
This is craft, not art. This work will make the book or will break it.
You do not whistle while you do this work. You mutter and scream and growl. You roll up your sleeves and go to work each day prepared to fight with and for each and every line and all that is in between.
I spend a lot more time in my baseball cap than in my beret. Which is one of the reasons I keep two books going almost all the time. I walk to a nearby coffee shop and order a café au lait while wearing the aforementioned beret. I do not like café au lait, but I like being a man who can order one and do so with the accent on the proper syllable. I get to wear my beret for at least six hundred words each day and remember I am an artist.
The rewrite work requires my Yankees cap and my colored pens. I live a part of my day for weeks on end in a literary MASH unit equipped only with colored pens and an X-Acto knife.
– from “Dancing on the Head of a Pen” by Robert Benson