Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Dipping the Quill Deeper: Writing is Re-Writing

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

In her book, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard penned these words:

It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away.

A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them. Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right. The discardable chapters are on the left. The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end. The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand. In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false. 

Last night I sat at the directors’ table of my local HOA meeting. Somehow, not long after moving to our new “hood,” I found myself applying for a director’s position and then, in spite of being largely unknown, being voted in. In the two years since, I’ve done my best to serve the board who serves the community my husband and I are blessed to call “home.”

The director who typically sits to my left, turned to me before the meeting began and asked, “I’ve wanted to ask: who edits your books? Do you pay someone?”

I quickly explained critique partners—felt the pang of having lost my last one, Sandra D. Bricker(Sandie to those she loved and who loved her), to a stroke in a way-too-early-season of her life. I then talked of freelance editors and content editors and acquisition editors and the editors who are employed by publishing houses. 

Then, of course, we have line editors …

“Books,” I told her with a smile after her eyes widened at all this, “are not written. They’re edited.”

Oh, wouldn’t it be glorious if our thoughts came out onto the page in the same manner as our readers glimpse them the first time? Wouldn’t it be marvelous if painters didn’t need additional pallets of paint and new brushes to cover their mistakes? Those first brushstrokes of non-genius … 

But, this is not the way of it.

My most recent release (of which I am the “with” author alongside the kind and brilliant mind of Reverend Eric Eichinger), The Final Racewas re-written three times. Entire sections and chapters were discarded. Tossed into the wastepaper basket of our laptops and computers. New sections and chapters, painstakingly added. We watched some of that sweat equity wash down the drain as well. Finally, after bleeding all over the keyboard, the editors at Tyndale declared it “very good.”

A writer could almost get a complex.

“Is this normal?” Eric asked on more than one occasion, his voice a fearful pitch, this being his first book. His first rodeo … though surely not his last. 

“Perfectly,” I assured him. “And when we are done, you will see how right they are, these editors.”

I’d learned this many times over, this not being my first rodeo. I want to tell you a story of the writing—and re-writing—of my novel, Five BridesInitially, we (the editor and I) decided that I should tell this “based on a true story” tale from the viewpoint of the woman who had shared it with me. I turned in my 85,000 words and waited a month for the thumbs up or thumbs down.

I got a thumbs down. The writing was good, they said, but it was not excellent. It needed something more … and that something more was to throw out the first person point of view, rewrite the manuscript in multiple third person point of view, and add about 40,000 words to the project. 

Did I mention they gave me all of two months?

I stared at the monitor of my laptop for a good two days before any semblance of craft and talent kicked in. But when it did, boy did it, mainly because I knew in my writer’s gut that they were right.

I called Sandie and hollered, “Be on standby!” For the next eight weeks, that precious soul critiqued and edited as fast as I could send chapters her way. 

Right on schedule I turned in a work that rose to #1 on the CBA bestseller list. And, as my daughter pointed out, beating out C. S. Lewis and a few other big names in our industry. Hey, not everybody can say that. But I’ll tell you this: it would not have happened with the unedited, un-rewritten version.

I coach a lot of new writers who want to be published authors, but they have not yet learned the painful truth of how books are notwritten, but edited. Some get their feet wet with a freelance editor. They learn to trust the words of someone God has gifted with this also-rare ability. Anyone, you see, can throw words on paper. Thoughts. Imaginings. But not everyone can sort them in such a way as to be readable. Or award-winning. Or praise-worthy. 

What you write in the beginning most likely will not remain. Accept this. But trust me when I tell you that not a single word you pen—thrown out or kept—is wasted. Not. A. Single. One.

As for The Final Race, Eric Eichinger and I received a brilliant first review from Kirkus, which means all our hard work of writing, editing, re-writing, editing, throwing out, and writing some more paid off. We pranced around like peacocks for a few minutes after we got word of the revered review. 

After such hard work, even godly writers are allowed at least one dance … 


Eva Marie Everson is the multiple award-winning and bestselling author of over 35 books, both fiction and nonfiction. She is the president of Word Weavers International and the director of Florida Christian Writers Conference and North Georgia Christian Writers Conference. Eva Marie and her husband make their home in Central Florida where they enjoy a lake view, their children, and grandchildren. They are owned by a very small dog.


  1. Thank you for your wonderful wisdom and your willingness to share it with us Ms. Eva Marie. I am one of those very lucky authors who God blessed with a gifted, compassionate editor. And while I am just getting started on my "editing journey", I too have learned that writing is easy (God blessed me with that gift). Learning to trust the editing process though is a skill yet to be fully attained. I am so grateful He brought me a wonderful teacher. She is guiding me to turn my gift into a marketable talent. God's blessings ma'am, and much continued success.

  2. A good,caring editor is priceless.

  3. Sorry about getting in late, but better late than? Loved this. And I sooo relate. The good stuff that I throw out I've taken to putting in a separate file, because some of it I've had to put back in. Have a great day, Eva.

  4. Wow how beautifully written, I mean penned. Great message but beautiful wording. I'll have to pick up me game. Thank you for this.

  5. Cont. and it is so you. I can hear you saying this, even though I know you went over it several times. Beautiful.