Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Side Effects of Rewriting

Yeah, so no Kitty today...but tomorrow! I will have lots of time tomorrow to figure out how to use those mostly horrible words in a story. Remember how I said "nice-ish"? I think we have different ideas of what that means. I'm kinda scared of what I would have gotten if I didn't.

So quick-ish post today, then I'm off to the park with Dino Boy and Ninja Girl. (Yes, I'm taking my laptop in futile hope that I'll get work done.)

I've mentioned before that I've been rewriting a book. Not editing. Not reworking a big chunk. I'm talking open-a-blank-document-and-start-over-from-page-one kind of thing. The kind of "revision" where you are completely rethinking and sometimes even re-imagining the story.

It's been interesting, to say the least.

I've mentioned at one point being a fan of the rewrite. I've also spent a lot of time over the last couple months complaining about the rewrite. And, well, I guess that's the journey of every book. You love/hate it, don't you?

Recently I've stepped back from this project to work on another that needs my immediate attention. In doing so, I've noticed a few side effects of rewriting. Good and bad things.

1. Nothing Seems Too Hard Anymore
After starting completely over, it's amazing how easy everything else seems. Cutting a chapter? Eh, I cut a whole book! Changing a character's motivation? Psh, I've rewritten their whole backstory AND modified their personality accordingly. Creating more tension? Sure. No problem.

And so on and so forth.

On the one hand, this is extremely liberating. I've already had the worst possible editing situation thrown at me! If I can do this—and amazingly I am doing it—I can do anything. Unfortunately, it also leads to:

2. Serious Editing Doubts
Here I was sounding all confident, but the flip side of the "I can survive a rewrite" is you start to wonder if you need to rewrite everything. As I'm editing something else, I can't help but think "Is this enough?"

I mean, I'm not rewriting anything! Is it really okay to just tweak one thing here and two things there? I keep freaking out that the book hasn't changed enough, and thus I'm not editing it well enough.

I'm aware that this is very silly thinking, and yet I can't seem to kick it. And I've finally realized why:

3. Distrust In My Story, And My Writing
(Disclaimer: This might sound depressing, but I am in no way depressed. I promise. I'm working and happy and doing well.)

As a greener writer, I trusted that my stories were coming out mostly right. I didn't realize that I could be taking wrong plot turns without even knowing it. I just assumed the organic unfolding of the story was the most ideal.

Of course, I was wrong.

Stories need structure and craft and careful stringing along to really work. As organic as I write, I've finally learned I need to go in after and put in some support beams, so to speak. Thus, I don't trust my writing anymore. I assume there are problems I don't see, possibly huge ones that'll make the whole thing fall apart.

This is good and bad. Sometimes it's hard to write under this mentality, since I know every word I put down could be deleted later. But it's much easier to edit, since I suspected those words might not be right in the first place.

I'm still getting used to this, figuring out how to write and edit with the side effects of rewriting. But overall, I think it's been a good thing for me. Difficult, but good.


  1. Great post.

    Like you, I'm an agented, as-yet unpublished writer with a manuscript on submission to a publishing house.

    I drafted it and thought it was great, but was rejected at the partial stage. After 6 months in a drawer (which I thought at the time was a trunk from which it would never emerge) + a lot of independent study about the craft, I identified its major--make that MAJOR--flaws.

    I bravely decided to rewrite. But I realize that I was not fully committing to the revision process. My revisions, such as they were, didn't work. I was scared to cut too deep; a blank document start-over didn't even cross my mind. *Surely* I wouldn't toss 65k words!

    Result: literary equivalent to bad plastic surgery. Parts were fixed, making the unfixed parts look out of place. Something was "off" the end result. No matter how much I polished, it didn't read like a real book. All those words wasted--but the time was well spent. Big lessons drawn. Great experience.

    Ultimately, I opened that word document too. Result: agented and on submission.

    Best thing I ever did. And like you, there isn't anything about revision or editing that scares me. I've seen the alternative!

  2. I'm right there with you. I had to start completely over on my 1st book. I finally finished, and guess what? It get to start completely over again, because I didn't change it enough the 1st time. I started it when I was in junior high and when I came back to it, I kept writing like I was still there and it's awful.

    So now it's on hold until I can find time to completely butcher it. *sigh* It's frustrating, but we're better writers because of it.

  3. I know how you feel - I've taken to completely re-writing my book (twice) instead of editing it. And now that I've done that I'm finally to the editing stage, and I don't really know how to do it without re-writing whole chunks of it :/ Kind of frustrating.

    But I'm working on it, slowly, and I'm getting it to where I think it needs to be. I've found editing other people's books to be helpful - it gets me in the mindset of editing rather than re-writing and shows me how to go about doing the same to my own book.

  4. Good stuff. I've been working on bringing the first MS I ever wrote up to standard. It's moving forward, but you can only grow so far as your skeleton will let you.

    I think I may be headed for a rewrite too. Both liberating and overwhelming.

    My word verification is "shexiast" as in

    He was the shexiast man I ever did see :)

  5. Great post, Natalie. And I appreciate Tierney's additional anecdote in the comments.

    I love your brand of realism + optimism + genuineness. That's definitely what I subscribe to as well.

  6. Natalie and all,

    Is there a point when editing/rewriting of a particular manuscript becomes counter productive?

    I'm working on my first novel-length MS. Once it's complete, I envision editing it once, rewriting and submitting to an agent. If it gets flatly rejected, I'm thinking that's pretty much it - time to move on.

    I can see going back for further rewrites and/or total rewrite if you got constructive feedback from an Agent or Editor.

    I just don't want to fall in the trap of working on the same MS for 10 years.


  7. Yep, I'm in the course of rewriting my current WiP. #3 is something I have to constantly battle with as I'm often way too hard on myself. It's hard to break that mentality.

    When I'm done with this one, I figure the same thing will happen to last year's NaNo novel too.

  8. Heh, I'm currently suffering from SED—that's Serious Editing Doubts.

    It's hard to remember that feeling you had while drafting, the freedom, the rush. Editing is a dual-edged sword. You know it makes the work better, but at the same time, it can be painful.

    Good post!

  9. There *is* something liberating when you get to the point where you accept you are going to have to let something that isn't working go. But I totally hear you about the editing self-doubt. Hang in there!

  10. I practically rewrote my WIP too. Good to know it's not a bad thing at the end of the process!

  11. I'm rewriting as well. And I must admit that I suffer from #3 as well. Best of luck!

  12. Scott, while yes, editing the same MS for 10 years might be "bad," I'm gonna say right now that one edit before querying is definitely not enough.

    I know this because, alas, that is what I used to do. I didn't see any amount of success until I really started to dig in and tear my manuscripts apart.

    And the more I edited, the MORE I got requests. And when those requests got replies like "the writing was rough." I edited more. And more.

    Can editing be counter-productive? I'm not sure. It never has been for me, but I'll admit right now I'm still pretty new to this, as I've only been earnestly writing fiction for about 5 years.

  13. Rewriting is a scary thing to face, but it can be so worth it. Kudos to you for doing it and actually making it work. I rewrote a project, but it'll take a rewrite or two more to get it up to editing stages. Very helpful and inspiring post.

  14. Yep, I've been there and I feel your pain. But if the editor wants it, what ya gonna do? Smile, hit your head on the the keyboard, and write!

  15. I'm pretty much rewriting my book now. It's kinda fun, isn't it?

  16. I'm rewriting my book from scratch...about 3/4 done...and it's so much frickin better than the original.
    But of course when I wrote the first draft I only had the story in my head for 6 it's been 8 the story is much better formed.

    The problem is that 1/4 that remains...I have no idea what to do. But I know when I figure it's going to rock.

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