There are lots of tips on editing novel manuscripts– stronger descriptions, better characters, cooler names– but they always tell you the same thing:
Come back to the story with new eyes.
Hello, is this the Association of Organ Donors? I would like a new pair of eyes.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what they mean. Usually they explain a little more: leave the manuscript alone for a couple months, read something new, maybe even write something new– then you can consider yourself fresh enough for a reread.
It wasn’t quite enough for me. I took a very long time to get back to my latest story, but I finally began rewriting. I was immediately sucked into the same writing style, which was the one thing I needed to change more than anything else. How was I to do it?
A few months ago, I shared a technique to keep yourself from writing too hastily: I used a different handwriting to get the creative juices flowing again in a way that wouldn’t succumb to the dreadfully useful Backspace. It was a different way to look at a scene that otherwise wouldn’t have been written.
No, I don’t suggest writing your entire second draft on paper (though I did begin mine that way). But you can still change the way things look.
In short, if you’re going for a total rewrite, open a new document in whatever word processor you like and start messing with settings. Microsoft Word has three background colors– black (which I used for the first draft), blue (standard), and grey (which I am using now). Fonts are fun– I found a font for Microsoft Word I like called Poor Richard, which I added to a monochrome color scheme which I labeled Almanac. (Historical humor!) I set the document’s default settings to double-spaced text (previously single spaced or something), which, along with 12-pt font, will give a fairly accurate sense of how many pages of print it would be if it was published. I also put an indent in the beginning of every paragraph, so things actually look authentic.
And just because I wanted to, I wrote the title in enormous letters right on the front page.
I got myself excited again about this draft by messing with settings until it looked new. Sure enough, the bad writing style hasn’t showed its sorry face. There are still some clumsy things about the writing and story, but that isn’t something you can change with a new font. I’m still learning. (That’s why this blog is still running.)
While writing, I comment. Microsoft Word lets you add footnotes and comments to the text, just in case you’re co-authoring something. I indulge my schizophrenia and comment on anything that bugs me, but I can’t figure out just then. I have commented in accents. I have commented, and then added “But you know that.” I have told myself that I’m lying or being redundant. Of course, I also joke about phrasing, other jokes, and my own occasional stupidity. It almost feels like one of my more insulting characters is writing the comments while I slave over the manuscript.
Basically, I made it so it’s fun to redo something I’ve already done. Try it.