Second Draft

A wiser guy than me once said that all writing is rewriting. I’m well into the second draft of my next book (working title “Calais”), and this is the stage I usually dread: rewriting every line.

I love the process of invention. I really, really like sitting down and just imagining a new series of characters, putting them into horrible situations and seeing how they could extricate themselves. Sometimes, poor devils, they don’t! Writing fresh, like that, is wonderful. It’s the stage when, for me, I am inventing a whole new world and lives, and living through their eyes.

The next stage is the painful one, usually. Going through, reading every sentence aloud, tweaking and improving, deleting and moving, all takes days of painstaking effort, and it’s hard. Because by that stage you know the story you’re trying to write. It’s done. And I’m not a details person. I like the broader brush!

I’ve learned something in recent years. That is, old ways are often the best.

When I started out, the internet was a distant dream for most people. I was working on machines that had floppy diskette drives and really slow daisywheel printers. Still, I’d print out my copies regularly and work on the printed text. I had to keep amending LAST TEMPLAR, page by page, until I had it how I wanted, and then took that copy to my agent, and then had to amend and revise again until she was happy. It was god-awfully slow.

More recently I had LED (Panasonic) printers and lasers, which made the process much faster. However, in the last few years I moved to use technology more effectively.

I bought an iPad. With that I could download the book in progress and read on a machine that would give me a more “book” type of reading experience. Also, I could add notes and comments as I went through the book, I thought. That would improve the quality and speed of my work, surely?

No. One book on, I sold the iPad. It was good for reading – but much better for playing games. I don’t need games.

Then I got my HTC Flyer, which was brilliant. At last I could read my novels on a tablet that would give me a true ebook experience. I read several books on it for competition judging, and then I worked on my own novel. It had a pen so I could append notes and everything.

I sold it.

The thing is, when you’re writing, you do not want to have anything come between you and your story. Paper works best for me. And there are several reasons why.

First is the important tactile nature of the work. It’s really important to me that I get to feel paper. Don’t ask me why. It just is, and while it still is, it’s not something I’ll give up. Then again, there was (I am told – I’ve never found the source of this) research conducted in the US that showed that students who edited and reviewed their work on screen would routinely miss most typos. They wanted to read what they had intended to write. All too often, their eyes glossed over the actual errors. The study suggested that this was because of interference with their reading caused by the back-lit screens. The fact of the screen having a light behind it, they thought, caused the reader to miss many errors. They showed this by putting the same documents in front of the students, but on paper. Their ability to spot mistakes was the result.

However, the very best approach was definitely that of reading every word aloud from a sheet of paper. There is some kind of mechanism whereby trying to use eyes, mouth and brain simultaneously makes errors leap out.

So, having gone through various methods of working in recent years, I have finally gone full circle. I am now back to working happily with paper, reading aloud like a lunatic in my chilly office, and hoping not too many people are listening!

Happy reading, folks!wpid-img_20140728_202037.jpg

7 Responses to “Second Draft”
  1. Jack Eason says:

    Good luck with the re-write Michael. :)


  2. Interesting, this one. We had a quick twitter exchange if I recall, about this. I’m not too bothered about the paper copy until right at what I think is going to be the end – when I want to give it to someone else to read. I want that reader to read it from paper.

    Although, I then have to work on the paper copy anyway so maybe I’m kidding myself?

    One thing I am certain of – I agree with you wholeheartedly on this – is that reading aloud is essential. It’s the only way to properly understand what you’ve written – especially dialogue. The written words are, in the end, only symbols that represent spoken words with the multidimensionality of rhythm, cadence and tone that is hard to grasp without hearing the words. I know that when I’m reading fiction I ‘read aloud in my head’ if that makes any sense, in a way that I don’t with a scientific paper (where the figures are usually more important than the text in any case).

    Great blog, this.


    • Thanks for the comments, Austin, and I’m really glad you like the blog. I’m hoping to grow it more into an aid for aspiring writers, and comments from other writers like you really does help, so keep ’em coming!


  3. Hi, Michael! I am really enjoying your blog, and can totally relate to this post about computers and other devices vs. paper. Before computers came along I used to hand-write every story. Even after I learned to use a computer, I’d still physically write stories on paper before entering them into the computer.

    Eventually I learned to type stories as sentences popped into my head, as I still do, except now I print them out because that makes them feel more “real” to me in some strange way, plus I’m sure I’m a more accurate editor reading printed text than I am when reading a computer screen.

    I’ve had many self-inflicted computer problems. In fact, my latest post is about what I’m going through switching from a PC to a Mac: (

    I also agree that reading sentences aloud is the best way to catch typos, and check story flow. My dogs are either very patient listeners or extremely lazy because they hang out in my office with me and don’t run out of the room when I read what I’ve written out loud.


  4. Laura says:

    Hi Michael, I really enjoyed this post. I learned the importance of editing by reading out loud many years ago and it absolutely works the best (as does editing on paper). There is nothing better than reading a well edited book and it’s wonderful when authors make sure this happens. Keep blogging for us aspiring writers. We appreciate it. Laura.


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