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Writing to re-write

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Apr 28, 2014.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    When I started out I figured I'd write my story in one go, then I'd proofread it to check for spelling and grammar errors and then I'd be done. That was quite a while ago.

    One thing I've found lately is that I'm really looking forward to starting on my second draft. Not because that means my first draft is done, but because I can fix all the things I didn't get right the first time. The more I write, the more I get to know my characters and my setting. There are things that seem obvious now that I had no clue about when I started.

    What I'm looking forward to is being able to rewrite scenes and conversations early on in a way that will hint at things to come later. By tweaking incidents and occurrences in the start of the story I can make later events seem more natural and make more sense.

    I've heard several times that "writing is rewriting", but it's not until just recently that I've finally started to understand what it really means and it actually makes me really happy (and yet I might still be wrong - time will tell).

    I guess this isn't so much a question as just a sharing of this "revelation", but I hope maybe it can serve as some slight encouragement to others still slaving away on the first draft of their first story; things will clear up as you move along, if you keep at it you will eventually learn. :)

    On the other hand, it would be cool if someone less new to the game would share their experiences on this matter. How much do you change (have you changed) the early parts of the story because of things you've discovered in later parts?
    Scribble likes this.
  2. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    LOL!! Svtnsse, I know exactly what you are talking about. You have, with your sentence "That was quite a while ago," beautifully summed up years of my life as a writer. My story has evolved so much--to the point where the central conflict and the milieu are just about the only things that have not changed. It has sprouted sub-plots that I never imagined. The characters have changed so much--only two of them still have the original name I gave them--their personalities are richer, more real.

    The longer a period of time you work on something, the more it evolves. This should go without saying, but for me it was especially pronounced because I was 15 when I started working on this story in question. Now, not that being young means one is inherently a poorer writer, but adolescence is when massive paradigm shifts occur in one's understanding of things. While I have many things in common with my fifteen-year-old self, I am, more or less, a completely different person. Accordingly, the first draft I wrote all those years ago looks like it was written by a different person. (And in my case, it really was terrible writing. Shh. Don't tell my fifteen-year-old self. I thought that I was some seriously hot s*** back then.)

    With every pass of editing/re-writing on a manuscript, it becomes richer and more alive. You should be excited to re-work your draft. You will discover new things about yourself and your story.

    I have no idea how old you are, but my guess is that the older you are, the less drastic the changes. I can only speak to my experience of starting as a snotty teenage and becoming a slightly-less-snotty adult. :)
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2014
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  3. Julian S Bartz

    Julian S Bartz Minstrel

    Oh I can completely connect with this. My first book I began writing when I was 18 and finished when I was 21. It went around to friends and family for a few years and then I got caught up in university and finding a job and my writing dropped off. I then picked it up again and did a massive re-write about 2 year ago culminating in self publishing it.

    It is amazing how much changes as you get older. I think a lot of it has to do with life experience, building your writing skills and also how much you read. By the time I was 27 I had read a lot more books than at age 18 which I think contributed most to my re-writing.

    I think there is also an important point to be heard in saying 'don't overcook your manuscript'. I think we can always tinker and look to improve. Eventually you need to leave it be, give it to the public and move onto the next.

    I have also found beta readers the most important part of the re-writing process. I have a personal saying; if more than 50% of your beta readers believe something needs to be changed, then change it. If its less, make an executive decision. I think as a writer you could endlessly re-write things that don't need to be re-written. Listen tou your beta readers. They will tell you what's important.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  4. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Yep, Svrtnsse, that's pretty much the heart of the process for me.

    The first draft is pretty much laying the basics of the story out. As I edit, I find out more about characters and what motivates them. That lets me add layers and stuff into earlier scenes to set things up for pay-offs in later scenes.

    Sometimes first draft scenes are pretty flat emotionally, but as I learn more about the story and characters, I learn what certain scenes mean to the characters. When I learn this, it lets me write to the emotion of the scene and it becomes more than just a physically journey where stuff happens. It becomes an emotional journey too, where the characters change just a little inside. Or if a scene doesn't fit a certain emotional note I think I need in the story, I can change it into something that fits.

    The more editing that's done, the more I understand what the final shape of the story should be, and it gives me something to work towards as I mold the story.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  5. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    This is so true. It took me a year to finish my first book, and I then left it to brew for several months while I wrote something else. When I came back to it, my first thought was: who wrote this crap? It was pretty bad. I rewrote the first few chapters from the ground up. The rest - well, once the action gets underway, I find things flow much better, so the rest of it just got a light pruning.

    But I do try to do some editing as I go, reworking earlier chapters to fit with the way the characters develop, adding in foreshadowing, that sort of thing. Each day when I start writing, I read what I wrote the previous day and smooth it out. If I reach a lull, I'll go back and reread/edit chunks of earlier chapters. That way the editing process isn't so hard. Because I hate editing with a passion. Anything that makes it easier gets my vote.

    I'd second the advice not to get too obsessive about rewriting stuff. It's never going to be perfect. Write it, rewrite it, then put it out for critique or beta reading. Rewrite it once more. Proofread and then - publish or submit or put it away in a drawer, but consider it done. Then write something else.
    J. S. Elliot and Svrtnsse like this.
  6. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I do this as well. I can't start writing until I read the last paragraph I wrote the day before.

    Svrtnsse, I'm glad you brought this up. I personally love editing. It excites me that the story has made it far enough for me to go through that process with it. I enjoy being able to fill in the gaps, discover new things, and make the story smoother. My first drafts are info dumps. They are a mixture of normal paragraphs with capital letters of: explain this, such and such happens, is this ok here, etc. When I go back to rewrite, I already have the skeleton of the story written out and I'm able to write smoother without trying to figure out what comes next.

    I think all writers desire to reach a point in their skill/craft where the first draft requires little editing. I don't know how many of us get there, but I know my goal is to lessen the amount of edits I have to do per story. Some require more than others, but threads such as these remind me that I'm not alone in this process. :)
    J. S. Elliot likes this.
  7. Lovi

    Lovi Scribe

    I have only just started writing my first ever draft after a rough outline with more planned magic system and am only 3500 words in so far, so this is more so a worry I have for the first editing that I hopefully get to do eventually.
    I feel like every sentence has to be fluid with the other sentences even in the first draft, though I do try to move trough it as fast as possible. My worry is that, later when doing the second draft, I will obviously have discovered new things that need to be incorporated to the story earlier and foreshadowing and all that, but because the text already has that hardened outer edge that doesn't allow new sentences to be put in there, I worry that I have to basically re-write 90% of the sentences and think of the fluidity again, only with more complexity. Then again, that probably is what re-writing means anyway, so maybe that is the norm.
    I do realize that even when reading the text i wrote the previous day, that then felt very solid and unforgiving torwards anything new, is simply bad. So probably my worry is just silly and I should focus on getting trough the first draft and forget about this. But have any of you felt somewhat like I do before finishing the first first draft and then been proven right/wrong?
  8. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    I have this issue too. I know a lot of people write very rough first drafts, but I smooth and refine mine as I go, and yes, sometimes this happens. I need to squeeze in just one sentence, to foreshadow some later event, and it just won't fit. The whole scene flows so nicely that it's really hard to dismantle it and restructure it with room for the new line.

    We're all different, but I still think the 'write it well the first time' philosophy has a lot going for it. The only thing to watch out for is if it slows you down too much. If you spend a disproportionate amount of time smoothing and editing and general tinkering on the first draft, it gets difficult to make the proper progress. I write an average of 1,000 words a day over the course of the first draft, which is pretty slow. On the other hand, it doesn't need much rewriting later. Every writer has to find his or her own balance.
  9. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    When I started writing this was a HUGE problem for me. I would spend hours and hours crafting the flow of a paragraph. And then yes, in the second draft or even the next day I would need to add something, and it would be torture having to tear things apart. And it would take hours to reassemble.

    This is why I don't work on the flow of sentences until the final draft and just write what comes naturally out in the first draft. It's a waste of time, and it just makes editing way harder than it needs to be. It's harder to cut a sentence that you spent two hours crafting than one that's still in the rough stages and only took you a minute or two to write. And it also kind of means that two hours of crafting is wasted time.

    So IMHO stop it.:D You'll find finishing the first draft a lot easier.

    Also one thing I found that helps when I need to add something but can't seem to find the right flow to put it into the paragraph is to just to just tear it all apart and start from scratch. Rewrite the paragraph as simply and straightforward as possible then smooth it over later. You'd be surprised how well some things flow when just stated simply.

    One of the problems in my opinion with getting too caught up with flow is that you're mind can get stuck in a specific rhythm, like getting a song stuck in your head, and best case is the reader won't notice it. Worse case, the reader will, and there will be a beat to the way the words come out, like reading the story to a tune. And it will get repetitive and annoying, like forcing a song to get stuck in someone else's head.

    For myself, I've gone back and read old stories where I thought the flow was good, but once my head has been purged of that rhythm and I can see things more objectively, the flow isn't all that great. Some of them have that problem with beats. The opposite is true too. Stories where I thought the flow was terrible turn out to work way better than I remember.
  10. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    One way of dealing with this, I think, is to wait longer until editing. Leave the scene for later and get back to it in a few weeks or so. That way, you're no longer as emotionally attached to it as you were just after writing it. That makes it easier to cut it up.
  11. deilaitha

    deilaitha Sage

    Yes. I definitely find editing easier after letting my writing "ripen" for a few days.
  12. Terry Greer

    Terry Greer Sage

    The main issue I've found is finishing the story.
    It's easy to start, but hard to actually get to the end.
    You don't get there though if you constantly go back and polish and rewrite what you've already written.

    The only way I've found to do it is to just write - write anything - as long as its new and part of the story. It doesn't matter what order you right it in either(I write completely non-linearly nowadays - leaping around throughout the story (at least to start with).
    I tend to start with scenes I can imagine easily, then plot it out as bullet points for each chapter (so I have a good story structure) then fill in the gaps.

    But as everyone here is saying - you need to leave it for a few weeks before going back to it , then you have the pleasure (and I do mean that - because its the most part really if you give it a chance and don't rush it) of going through and fixing it all up.

    Writing is really rewriting. Ken Follet doesn't even edit the same manuscript on his rewrites, he starts again with a blank file and types every word in again - just to make sure he really thinks things through and condenses the story during the rewrite. I'm not that disciplined, but I can see the advantage of doing it.
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  13. Bansidhe

    Bansidhe Minstrel

    Sounds like a watershed moment for you, Svrtnsse!

    It took me longer that it should have that "perfect" is the enemy of "done". Now there's a logical progression of drafts for me: 1. Discovery-get the story down as fully as possible, saying all the things you want to say. 2. Meditation (rewrites)--content rewrites. Here's where I search for clarity and structure and logic. In other words, to say what I mean. 3. Revision draft--where I line edit, honing and polishing--where I seek to say it well.

    In other words, you start out with a big, imposing block of marble and a bunch of line drawings and sketches--but it turns out marble is strangle malleable, so you cut your way through it to the rough shape of your story. Then you make smaller, more precise chips out of it until you have a clear picture of what you're trying to say. Then you sand and polish until it's complete.

    And even then it turns out you're not done! Say you get a publishing contract--your editor will most likely put you through the same wringer, until you're bone dry instead of sopping wet!
    Last edited: May 11, 2014
  14. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    Sometimes I think back to older stories I've completed and contemplated rewriting them in my improved style.

    For example, four years ago I typed up a quick story about an African tribal huntress who went out hunting Iguanodon to win a bet with her friend. In the end she slew not an Iguanodon but a T. Rex. Looking back at it today, I see a story with a neat little concept but a disappointing execution. That's actually a common issue with me; I come up with concepts that I really like, but I end up not executing them to a degree that satisfies me.

    On the other hand you can only rewrite something so many times until you get sick of it.
  15. Addison

    Addison Auror

    The more I write and re-write the story, especially when I take some time between drafts, I learn a lot more about the characters, setting and the plot itself. I smooth out wrinkles I didn't know were there. But I've found an effective way for re-writing. Four stages, or three if you skip one.

    1. Edit as you go. After you finish a scene, page or chapter, go back and do basic proof reading.
    2. Read the draft on the computer, beginning to end.
    3. Print out the story and read it, scratch out words, write wacky things or doodles in the margins.
    4. Read it aloud. To the dog, the wall, the plant, your reflection whatever. Just hear it out loud.

    With every step I found and learned more about my story.
  16. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    My first drafts always change substantially.

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