Trust Me, You NEED to Rewrite

In January I mentioned that I love reading Kris Rusch’s business blog for authors. She and her husband Dean Wesley Smith have a lot of advice I agree with, especially when it comes to navigating traditional publishing contracts and all aspects of self-publishing.

But there is one thing that, every time I see it, I cringe a little.

They say not to rewrite. Edit, yes. Finish your story, edit it, and get it out there–whether that means sending queries to agent and publishers or putting it up yourself on Amazon. No rewriting.

In one way, I can see their point. I think they mean, don’t get bogged down in trying to make sure every t is crossed and every i dotted. Don’t forever fiddle with the story, trying to make it absolutely perfect. That makes sense to me, because the writer can’t do that. Heck, most editors and publishers can’t even make most stories absolutely perfect. There’s always going to be a typo or two that slips past…not to mention that the story’s perfection will always be subjective to readers anyway.

I, admittedly, have fallen into that with my stories. Before Forged Steel, the urban fantasy I’ve been working on since fall of 2011, there was HalfBlood, which can be seen on my profile here. It was abandoned at draft 3.5 in early 2011, after being worked on for 3 years. Before that, there was The Second Crown, which was worked on for between 5-7 years before (thankfully) being stuffed into a shoebox at the back of the closet.

Forged Steel is the one that has come the closest to being finished, and I’m still in the process of rewriting on it. But I’ve come to think that this is just part of my writing process. My first drafts can be very messy…and in the case of Forged Steel, I had no idea how much the story would change it’s shape. In a year’s time, it went from being a satirical novella to a planned series of five plus a novella and a prequel. In my case, I need to rewrite, otherwise my stories would be long, rambling messes.

I suppose not rewriting would work if you’re very much a detailed-outline type of person, or if your stories brew in your head long enough to come out fully formed on paper. But mine do not–often my first draft is a discovery draft to find out what the characters are trying to tell me and where the story is going.

So what about you? Do your stories need extensive rewriting, or can you get away with minor edits?

About H. A. Titus

H. A. Titus is usually found with her nose in a book or spinning story-worlds in her head. Her love affair with fantasy began at age twelve, when her dad handed her The Lord of the Rings after listening to it on tape during a family vacation. Her stories have been published in Digital Dragon Magazine, Residential Aliens Magazine, and four anthologies: Alternative Witness; Avenir Eclectia Volume 1; The Tanist's Wife and Other Stories; and Different Dragons Volume II. In December 2013, her short story "Dragon Dance" won Honorable Mention in a Writers of the Future contest. She lives on the shores of Lake Superior with her meteorologist husband and young son, who do their best to ensure she occasionally emerges into the real world. When she's not writing, she can be found rock-climbing, skiing, or hanging out at her online home, hatitus.wordpress.com.

8 comments on “Trust Me, You NEED to Rewrite

  1. I wrote my first book about 8 times, and each version went through I don’t know how many edits. I think that’s part of the process of learning to write a novel. You just have to do it over and over until you get it. Same principle in playing the piano or painting or dance or any other art form.

    I can’t imagine what Rusch and Smith have in mind when they tell people not to rewrite. Unless its that they think their audience is all experienced novelists, in which case they could probably go from first draft straight into editing. But usually the first edit pass on a new writer’s rough draft will involve lots of rewriting. In fact, lots of authors say “good writing is rewriting.”

    I have spoken to writers who are so under the assumption that their first draft is awful that rather than editing it, they rewrite it. And I mean these are experienced writers who do this as a matter of routine. THAT, I think, is a waste of time. Any writer who has written more than one book knows how to write well enough to do the rewrite by working in the rough draft rather than re-typing the entire story. Maybe that’s what Rusch and Smith are on about.

  2. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    “So what about you? Do your stories need extensive rewriting, or can you get away with minor edits?” Uh, that kinda depends on where I am in the process and what I am processing… 🙂

  3. I think this is one of those areas of writing that is like “pantsers vs. plotters” — there are several different camps, and each feel very strongly about their position. It’s an area that I’ve marked in my head as “worth discussing, but not worth arguing about”.

    Both approaches are right. Because the real rule is this: Do what works. Use the approach that makes your story the best it can be.

    My (current) opinion is that when we’re learning the craft, we may do a lot more re-working, re-writing, re-drafting, editing, revising, call it whatever you like. We may not instinctively have a grasp of the overall structure and flow of a novel, so we need to do heavy re-organizing after the first draft. Every scene may need improvement. Fine. Do it. Learn it. Improve your craft.

    Eventually, the building blocks of excellent fiction writing will become natural and you won’t need to re-do as much. That’s how it’s been for me, anyway.

    Another factor is this: The people I hear supporting this “Don’t rewrite” concept are often full-time writers who are into letting the story pour out as fast as possible, to be writing every day for hours and draft an entire novel in a month or two (or less). They are experienced novelists. They are like plein air artists who want to capture a landscape in one setting, ideally in some short time (2 hours or less) so they can capture the light and colors of that moment.

    It’s a beautiful art form. And it doesn’t work when you try to go slowly and carefully. And you’ll ruin it if you try to touch it up later. You could say that not every artist is a plein air artist. Sure. But every artist will benefit from trying it. It’s a great exercise. And they may find that it’s a breakthrough for them, and takes them to a new level in their art.

    That’s how I feel about the “write fast and don’t rewrite” concept. Try it. See if it works better than what you’re currently doing. If not, no worries: go back to whatever works.

    I think Kristen makes a good point about experience. Smith and Rusch talk about the writing classes they give. They say specifically that when they require their students to write an entire story in an hour in class (or whatever the time period was), they get better, fresher, more flowing writing than what most of the students brought in for critique. They’ve witnessed this over and over — to me, that’s real data. That’s true, it’s not just a theory or how they feel about their own writing.

    So there’s something to this concept… BUT. I’m pretty sure they only offer classes to experienced writers. So I do think that’s part of the puzzle, too. If you haven’t mastered the building blocks of the craft, then this technique may not result in “better” writing. And even if you’re experienced, it may not fit your personality and general writing style.

  4. I’m with Teddi – it really depends on a writer’s level of experience. Your first novel? Rewrite it as many times as you can stand. Your tenth may not need that much attention because you have gotten just that much better over years of practice.

    For myself, I tend to outline heavily and edit heavily for style and flow, perhaps adding extra scenes if needed, but it’s not really rewriting, and most of the substance is exactly as I wrote the first draft. The magic is in turning that outline into story – that’s where unexpected things happen, dots join up that I hadn’t intended but work perfectly, and it becomes more than I imagined at the outset.

  5. As a pantser, my first draft is a discovery one, too. I have no idea what draft number I’m on with my current wip, but it began as a complete rewrite of previous nano novels.
    I also understand not getting bogged down in editing, but why settle for less than excellence? I say, whatever it takes to get it to be the best of your abilities.

  6. I hadn’t finished a book till I took Dean’s 6 week plotting class. Since then (last summer) 4 self pubbed, one in the hands of a publisher, and two more smaller kids books coming out this this Spring.

    Also, the two stories I worked the least on were the ones picked up by professional mags. Those stories just came out. Others that I’ve worked over just get messed up.

    Dean’s advice isn’t don’t fix typos or don’t rewrite. He follows Heinlein’s rules, which is rewrite only to editorial request. So when the publisher asked for some changes to my book, I said OK. But for the stuff I’m self pubbing, I just write it, post it, and move on.

    Dean’s advice about not rewriting is scary but sound. Trust your creative voice, not your english grammarian voice on rewrites.

    I really liked the plotting class. It was worth every penny. Also I took their cover workshop and you can tell the diff between my first book, that I did on my own, and my stuff since.

  7. I think it depends on how clean your first draft is. I didn’t have any idea where my first book was going, so I rewrote it ten times. My novella only got one major rewrite, but numerous passes to flesh out certain areas. I’ve got another book in complete rewrite (it was a Nano, so it’s a mess). I’ve got a couple more that I think are clean, they’re just too lean and need fleshing out. I won’t know until I read them over again and let my beta readers rip them up.

    Everybody has their own writing style, though. Some people need to rewrite and some don’t.

  8. […] get over the concern for quality when every single author is trying to do that.” Also see Trust Me, You NEED to Rewrite, same author, along the same […]

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