The way a great idea becomes a great story is through rewriting. And, ironically, the biggest obstacle to rewriting is “good” writing. The more polished the prose, the more apt the metaphor, the more memorable the line of dialogue is, the more likely the writer will sacrifice story to hold onto it unchanged.
There are, of course, exceptions. Sometimes, the muse is generous and prose pours out with almost no need for editing. Some writers polish and shape as they go along with an uncanny sense of story direction that makes the first completed draft the last. When you get a gift from the universe, don’t turn it down. If you are what a friend of mine calls a “freak of nature” whose stories emerge whole and entire, I wish you a good life.
Most of us need to cut, mold, shape, and polish. It’s easier to do this if the words don’t get in the way. Precious chapters, scenes, phrases, and words are difficult to rework and delete. And they are almost impossible to write around and make organic with the rest of the story.
This is one of the reasons why I advocate quick drafting. It’s easier to cut a thousand words written in an hour than a thousand words written in a week of writing sessions. If you can draft a novel in 90 days, tossing chapters or even putting the whole manuscript aside is easier than doing the same with work that has taken a year or more to produce.
It is possible to get too sloppy. Automatic writing and writing that is so diffuse it means nothing when you return to it is going too far. But many people sweat over every word and phrase when close enough is good enough – perhaps best -- for a draft.
Here’s my point:
Invest in story, not in words.
I love well-turned phrases, beautiful images, and scintillating dialogue. Like most writers, I’m an avid reader. Words delight me, and I’ll even read pieces I don’t quite understand if the sound values charm me. But people come to commercial fiction for story, so, in my own work, that’s what I’m committed to providing.
I’ve worked with and without an outline, but, for me, even when the storytelling is structured and planned, the story evolves, develops, and reveals itself in the drafting. That makes the rewriting critical. Without a willingness to make radical changes, the best story cannot be told.