Many of those who believe in Heinlein's rules of writing, particularly the rule about not rewriting, see writing as a kind of performance. They equate learning to write with learning to play the violin, or learning to dance.
I am not one of these people. Though I see value in the metaphor, the plain fact is, you CAN'T revise a performance. It doesn't really equate at all to Heinlein's rule.
I think the visual arts make for a better perspective on writing.
See, in the visual arts, you have to sketch a LOT -- just keep drawing new lines and shading new spaces -- to gain control over your hand. But you also do revise. It's a critical part of the process.
The first thing you learn in any drawing class is that your drawing should be "complete" at any stage of the game. That is, you don't draw the nose to perfect completion and then move on to the eyes. You sketch the overall shapes, you lay in lines or base shading all over the whole canvas. You might work some details a little ahead of others, but generally, you always work the whole piece of art at every stage.
You may not be finished, but the whole picture is there. And there may be several times in the process where you could declare it finished, as well. Part of the work of the artist is to be able to step back and know when a work is done. (And, imho, that's what Heinlein's Rule 3 is about. It's an emphatic of Rule 2 -- you have to finish the work.)
So this past weekend, while I was watching an episode White Collar on Hulu, I decided to sketch a riding boot and save the various stages of the work as I went.
The first step is the basic shape, sketched out in line. I did this one as a contour sketch -- quite literally the outline, with no internal detail. I was making this one up as I went along, with no idea where I was going with it stylistically, so I just slapdash sketched in some shading for the next step -- which is when I got an idea of what I wanted it to look like. Then I sketched in the real shading -- still in sketch form. The third boot here could be a finished drawing, depending on what I was going for.
But I wanted to work on my shading more, so I decided to switch colors and sketch in some highlights, with medium and light tones. The technique I was going for requires putting in too much and then backing it off with an eraser (if you're using layers) or more dark shades if you're just layering in color. So the first boot here is not a finished drawing. The second, where I've backed off the highlights a little could be.
In the final drawing, I decided to take it to another level, and I used a smudge tool to give it a more painterly or sculptural look. It's not a strong drawing by any means, but it has a more finished and polished feel. Very different from the sketchiness of the earlier versions, and yet still the same boot. And it would not have been possible to do this as a first run attempt. To get that last boot, I had to go through the other stages. (Although, admittedly, if I knew I was going for that look, I might have moved to pastels step two or three. But I didn't know I wanted to go there until I saw what I had. Art is like that.)
I write something like I do artwork. It's not an exact equation -- I don't rough in the whole story and go through multiple drafts, for instance. But I... work the canvas as I write, pinning down major events, pinning down details as I work the areas in between. Working all the greens and blacks first and then splashing and blending with the reds and yellows
You might call it layering. And yes, I do think it's a form of "rewriting." I'll talk tomorrow more that layering method of writing.
See you in the funny papers.