Most published authors go through many revisions before a manuscript is ready. Each time, the book gets better – the story clearer and stronger. It’s a myth that great writers get it right first time. When asked why he re-wrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times, Ernest Hemingway replied that he was simply “Getting the words right.”
But it can be hard, if you’re revisiting a scene for the third, fourth or even the thirty-ninth time, to stay fresh and do a great job, rather than just churning out the words. If I find myself in this position then the first thing I have to do is ignore the impulse to just get it done and out of the way. To do this, I tell myself that the scene I’m revising is actually a new idea – a short story perhaps – and try to conjure that tingle of excitement of something fresh waiting to be told. Not easy, but I've found a few tricks that help.
First I try to forget what I’ve done before and see if there’s a way I can tell the story from a different angle. I need to find a way to entertain me while I write, because a leaden hand produces dead words. Maybe I can set the scene in a different location, somewhere more unusual, funnier, scarier. Is there anything else that could happen to add a bit of life and colour? A cameo character or background action that will add an dash of the exotic, an element of danger, or humour. If two characters need to have a conversation in order to move the action along, can this conversation occur in a different way? Via mobile phones with intermittent reception perhaps, or scribbled notes passed under the glance of an adversary, or written in the steam on a window, or even shouted through a toilet door?
The key is to find something that will re-awaken my interest, my excitement in the scene, so I can't wait to tell it. Usually all I need is something to get me started. Once the words begin to flow, the story takes over and if I’m lucky, the magic happens.
Failing that, a bribery/reward system works a treat. A large pot of tea and one shortbread finger (substitute your own guilty pleasure here) for every 500 words works for me.