Why Rewriting is such a Bad Fucking Idea

I was raised in an academic writing environment, with such bullshit notions such as:

  • you have to rewrite everything a few times before submitting
  • good stories takes a long time to write

Let me just clarify: all the above are pure and utter crap.

The premise behind the rewriting is the fact that no one’s first try is perfect. That much is true. But you cannot simply ignore the basic growth of the human brain. As a matter of fact writers do get better at what they do, and will eventually come to a point where they write a not-so-shitty first draft.

I mean are we expected to labor on something for a couple of weeks (maybe months or years) and then throw it away simply because it’s a first draft? There are times when you’re so into it that you’re falling in love not only with the project but also with the process itself. Why dismiss those simply because of a label? An antiquated one at that?

I never write more than one draft, with the exception of Firstborn. That, I admit, was shitty at first. Every time I would open up the file on my computer I would cringe as if something was missing. After I got signed I was asked to rewrite it, which I did from scratch. That was a good idea. The story was good, the writing was not. So instead of editing over 90% of it, I decided to scrap it and start over.

However for any of my subsequent works, I have never scrapped a first draft and started over. That’s just dumb. Here’s the trick guys – I edit. I take entire paragraphs that give me that cringe feeling in my gut and I rewrite that small portion.

Point number 2: if you do something over and over again, you not only get better but you get faster. It takes me a few months to write a novel of about 80K words. However I would be very worried if by book 6 of Legacy I won’t be able to write an entire book in about 3 months. I mean if you aren’t improving at a somewhat steady rate, you’re doing something wrong.

So why am I lashing out at this? I’m writing this on a Saturday evening, which is so fucking sad – and a day after I had a huge internal conflict about this very topic. 

The series I’m currently working on is different in that I want it to be serialized fiction – essentially a series of novellas that tell a few bundles of stories (like arc or seasons on a TV show, or maybe a volume in a manga collection.) So I am writing a short story which will serve as the first episode if you will – introducing the reader to the world and characters as well as tell a very interesting story. 

When I wrote the story I was fully in the muse and I love it. Then I tried editing it, which meant I had a shit load of errors. Now here’s when things get bent: I have a routine. Get up, watch some episodes, get to work till late night, sleep and repeat.

Yesterday I thought I had enough strength of will to maybe switch it up and get to work immediately. Bad idea.

My OCD went haywire, my zen took a vacation and I was sweating within the hour over a damn story. I decided to rewrite the story, which I hated. I took the good parts and put it in the original one, which sucked big balls on a major ball sucking level. Then I edited it again, smoothing the rough parts and decided to divide it in chapters (cos it is kinda long). Took one chapter, made it the best I could have made it and then decided to go to a training session.

I didn’t actually make it – no parking. Stress level: High. Very fucking high.

So I go back home, give up on meeting people (because seriously, I was nearly a werewolf by the time I got home) and decided to reach out to my author friends for some help.

I email the chapter to a few authors I know wouldn’t hate me for doing so, and I got somewhat positive feedback. 

And here I am today writing about it. The moral of the story is that you should follow your gut and follow through. Don’t rewrite unless you have to, but always edit your work because seriously, no one is that good.

And that’s my Saturday night, guys.

Till next time,

Ryan

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4 comments on “Why Rewriting is such a Bad Fucking Idea
  1. amberskyef says:

    I disagree that always having to re-write means you’re doing something wrong. Most authors do this, in fact. Most authors I have ever read had to re-write their books, even the experienced ones–either their agent is going to make them do it, or their editor will if they don’t. John Green’s most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, had to be re-written several times because of its complexity, and he had five stories published before that one. TFiOS is his best work yet not only because he spent so much time on it, but, well, because he grew as a writer, which had nothing to do in improving with the decency of his first draft. In fact, John Green admits his first draft was complete bs. TFiOS was originally going to be about kids with cancer who would meet in a secret cave outside of their hospital (and that sounds horrible, but you start with an initial idea, fall in love with it, distance yourself from it, then realize you can make it better). Now it’s an existential tragedy between two love-struck teenagers, one whose cancer is in remission and another whose cancer isn’t, and it’s one of the most popular books today, still on the NYT’s bestseller list.

    Becoming a better writer has nothing to do with being able to write a decent first draft. Many writers, including me, don’t even try to write a decent first draft. All I do is word vomit. I don’t care about the quality. They’re just ideas on paper to me, ones I don’t scrap but make stronger in the revision process–because it isn’t about scrapping a first draft. I might scrap some things in the initial draft, but that book is still there. Becoming a better writer not only means becoming stronger at doing your own revisions so that way when you turn it in your editor doesn’t have to mark it up as much, but turning out a better final product than the previous book you’ve had published (and even this isn’t always guaranteed depending on the story you write). It also means being able to take edits from your editor or whatever and getting them right the first time.

    It is a rare writer who doesn’t really have to re-write.

    Every book is different. Some books are going to be more difficult to write than others. When Stars Die was REALLY easy to write, but the sequel was not easy to write…at all. And you think it would be considering I got When Stars Die right the first time without having to do any serious re-writing. But it wasn’t because the second book is more complex.

    Re-writing isn’t some antiquated concept, either. Many writers have to re-write just about everything they write. So it might be bs to you, but for many, it isn’t, which is why professors still teach it. Even they have to re-write what they publish; thus, they know what they’re talking about. Even the best writers in my degree program ultimately had to re-write their chosen essays for their senior portfolios–and they admit it was a much better product than the original draft. Had I chosen to stay at my university, I probably would have had to re-write my chosen essay that I received an A on, because, you see, it’s an A paper for an undergraduate program, but not for a graduate program that wants you to publish your master’s thesis.

  2. Mariah says:

    If doing things your way works for you, then do it your way.

    The first rule of writing is “Learn the Rules”
    The second rule is “Break the Rules”

    Do what works for you, at a pace that works for you. If you like what you’ve written, DON’T rewrite it just because other people once told you that was how writers are supposed to operate. Rewrites are for pieces that don’t work. If it works, why rewrite. I certainly don’t rewrite everything I write, that’s balderdash. HOWEVER, I can recognize pieces that will need certain levels of rewrites. Whether it is a scene that I need to rework or a whole portion of the story. If it works, I don’t change it.

    Bottom line,

    Do things your way.
    Write because you love it.
    That’s the only reason to write anyway, so you might as well write what you like, and like what you write.

  3. Ryan,

    I really enjoyed your honesty in this post. Rewriting and editing – often the same thing but also often not the same thing at all. (Oh the contradiction I just confused myself with!)
    Thank you for sharing your struggles with this concept. I bet you’ve helped other authors who have felt the same way. I, for one, have had this issue on both sides. I’ve “rewritten” something just because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. Through that, I ended up ruining big chunks in my mind, and I later had to go back just to return it to its original state. I feel like I lost my voice that I had gained in the original moment during my rewrite. That being said, I’ve also gained wonderful situations in stories by completely rewriting them. I guess it’s up to the writer to trust their gut in order to understand when the novel is one that needs editing or if it needs a complete rewrite.
    This is such an interesting topic! I hope your stress and situation has gotten much better in the past few days.
    ~SAT

  4. […] ← Why Rewriting is such a Bad Fucking Idea […]

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