Revising and rewriting: Learning from novelist M.J. Hyland
M.J. Hyland is an Australian-English novelist and creative writing teacher, exactly the kind of person who can help you write a great Jacksonville Jaguars season preview.
Even though we have a strict rule against writing fiction, including satire, at Bleacher Report, her piece in the Sunday Guardian, “How to write fiction: MJ Hyland on revising and rewriting,” offers terrific advice for writers in any genre.
“I’ve never read or written a perfect first draft,” she begins. “Perfect first drafts don’t exist.”
She’s writing about fiction, but it’s true for any kind of writing. Sportswriting is often about speed, and there simply isn’t time for anything other than a first draft. In fact, journalism itself was famously called “the first rough draft of history” by the Washington Post editorial page in the 1940s.
But sometimes you have five minutes, and you should use them to revise and rewrite as much as you can. Sometimes you have an hour or two and you should use them to comb through what you’ve written and make it better. If you have more time than that, you’re lucky. Don’t blow it.
As a writer, I look for advice wherever I can find it. Sometimes it comes from people who are doing something other than the kind of writing I’m doing. I take what fits and disregard the rest. I can’t find it online, but I’m sure I’ve read novelist Elmore Leonard saying something like, “Whenever I get stuck, I give someone a gun.”
That doesn’t really work in sportswriting! But Leonard has lots of other advice I can use, which I’ll get to in a future post.
It’s worth reading the whole piece, but here are Hyland’s seven techniques, some of them borrowed from other writers, including Leonard:
1. Remove exaggeration
2. Cut out clichés
3. Remove your failed similes
4. Don’t attempt a final version of the beginning of the story until you know how it ends
5. Do at least one of the following to help you see your prose more clearly:
- Write by hand
- Use an ugly font
- Read your work aloud, or have somebody else read it aloud
- Write your second draft without referring to the first draft
6. Don’t use more words than you need to and beware of fancy or ornate words
7. Make sure your adverbs and adjectives aren’t muting your verbs and nouns
Number 4 is pretty specific to fiction and doesn’t really fit sportswriting. Or does it? What do you think?
And what are some basic techniques of revising and rewriting, or of just going over your work and making it better once you’ve “finished,” that Hyland doesn’t mention?