Thursday, October 8, 2015

Rewriting: waste of time or sign of growth?

Writers play all kinds of games with themselves to convince themselves to get words on the page, even when they aren’t completely sure what might come next. We say things like “You can’t revise a blank page” or “BISFOKB” (butt in seat, fingers on keyboard)—which says nothing about actually having anything to say J, or “Just write, the words will come”.

While I’ve always agreed with this advice, I’ve never been good at taking it. I hate to rewrite work, which means if I don't know what's coming I will spend a lot of time staring at a blank words document. It’s not even one hundred percent conscious, but more that often when I write something it tends to be set in stone in my mind (which can be really hard when you lose work, to human or computer error). I know I can change anything and everything later on, but I rarely do.

But over the last year I’ve found myself doing more and more rewriting. And I’m not talking about just a few words or phrases here or there, that happens with every story, but huge rewrites of entire scenes.

I think this is occurring for a couple of reasons. One is because I’ve been writing longer works lately. Longer works, mean more complicated stories and characters, that sometimes aren’t completely right the first time. Another is because I’ve been working more on my series, and sometimes I have to make changes to one story to keep it consistent with the other stories.

But I think the biggest reason is because I’m working much harder on being true to my characters.

When I first started writing I was more focused on stories, one thing happens, that forces the next event in the story, and so on and so forth, until you hit happily ever after. I wasn’t focused on the characters as much and what was right for them. not that it didn't matter at all, but I would sometimes bend the characters to make the story work the way I wanted it. Throughout the years (before and after I was published) I’ve worked hard to get more in touch with my characters, to really get to know who they are before I sit down to write (though I don’t always figure it out completely until I’ve got a few scenes down on the screen), and as a result when a scene comes out that doesn’t completely fit with that character, I’m changing it.

I also think it’s about confidence. Now, I have the confidence to know when something isn’t right, I also have the confidence to change it. Over the last five years I’ve learned more, I’ve grown, and I can see when something is wrong and have the confidence that I can fix it. That I can rewrite it better. I can improve it.

So while doing a lot more rewriting might seem like a setback, I think it’s really a sign of growth and development. And even better, realizing this is making me rethink some of the other things in my life. Are other changes, that might on the surface look like setbacks, really signs of growth and maturity that I just don’t see yet? Are they really steps in the right direction?

How about all of you? Have you ever done anything that might to others look like a setback, but you knew was actually a step in the right direction? Maybe quitting a job to start at the bottom again in a field you love, or going back to school? Is there a change you’ve always wanted to make but was to scared if you did it might seem like a setback? Leave your experience in the comments, so we can encourage each other along.


Tina Donahue said...

A lot depends on whether the rewriting strengthens or weakens the story. I'm all for rewriting to make a tighter, more enjoyable story.

If you're rewriting based upon an opinion of one fan/person/friend/relative/critique partner then you need to determine if the opinion helps or hurts your story.

Can't please everyone. If you try, you'll never finish and put the baby up for adoption.

Fiona McGier said...

As an English teacher, with a specialty in writing, it's my belief that no piece of writing is ever "done." It can always be improved upon. Rewriting is one of my favorite parts of writing.

I tell kids who say they can't write, to "Barf it out quickly, then clean it up." If you have nothing on paper, you have nothing to work with. So when you get even a spark of an idea, write it down, free-writing style, without thinking of grammar rules, spelling, or anything else. Then afterwards, you'll have plenty of time to make it presentable.

This isn't to say that I haven't ever been guilty of thinking of every word I write as my "baby," and cutting scenes makes me feel like you want me to chop the baby's arms off. But I try to force myself to follow my own advice, and usually I end up realizing that, as a publisher rep told me a long time ago, "You're a good writer in need of a good editor."

jean hart stewart said...

I have to curb my tendency to rewrite. I can always think of something better, even after it's gone to an editor. It's hard to be completely satisfied.