Do You Ever Wish You Could Write it Over?

 

Do I ever wish I could write it over? Yeah, I do.

The thing is, writing and publishing books is not golf. There are no Mulligans. Once a writer commits words to public consumption, they are out there. No do-over changes that.

Yes, as an independent writer/publisher I can, in fact, have a sort of Mulligan anytime I want. I could pull every book from their sales platform and just write them again.

Should I Rewrite?

The question is, should I? For me, the answer is no. Those words have been read, considered, maybe loved or possibly rejected, and they are indelibly out there. Rewriting a story at that point seems to bring an element of dishonesty to the creative process, like saying, “Never mind that first story. I didn’t really mean it. Try this version.”

The truth is, no matter how perfectly a writer crafts a story, invariably he or she finds ways to improve on it when they read it; at least, they think it would be an improvement. Of course, by that time, everyone else has read it too. The fact is that pretty much every author I know wishes they could rewrite a book they have out.

Edit –Take the Time to Get it Right.

Mind you; I’m not talking about editing, revising and rewriting as part of the the proofing process, preparatory to publishing. In the words of Ernest Hemingway in his 1958 interview with George Plimpton, “I rewrote the ending to ‘Farewell to Arms,’ the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.”

That should be done every time. Well, maybe not thirty-nine times, unless you feel the need, but you should take the time to get it right. Then let it go.

Most writers know that, although some balk at the idea of having their baby mutilated. They consider every word that proceeds from their fevered imagination to be precious and irreplaceable. Balderdash! (Yeah, I’m trying to clean up my language)

The idea of some heartless editor who just doesn’t grasp the nuances of their prose redlining their words is nightmarish to them. Writers who obsess over their creation, hackles rising on the back of their necks when an editor, proofreader, beta reader, reviewer or friend dares to make a suggestion, are generally writers of the pretentious, self-indulgent sort of stuff I will never read. But more on editing in another post. For now, I’ll just say, get over yourself.

Back to the issue of actually rewriting a book, or parts of one. My first novel, Eyes of the Predator was an absolute masterpiece … I thought anyway.

Yes, I did edit it, had a proofreader go over my grammar and punctuation, had several beta readers go through it page by page and give suggestions. Some gave me reams of pages with ideas on how to say things, and even what I should say.

Many of the suggestions I used in the published version. Some I did not.

For example, one suggestion from a beta reader was that I should not abbreviate the African Methodist Episcopal Church located down in fictional Pickham County, Georgia as the A.M.E. Church. I ignored that one, despite the reader’s sincere protest that I was violating the rules of grammar by including an abbreviation in my prose without first giving it in full for the reader followed by the abbreviation in parentheses.

The thing is, I wasn’t writing a thesis and anyone who has lived in the south knows that the A.M.E. Church is called that … The A.M.E. Church. Nobody, including members of the church, call it by its full name. It’s just the way it is. I decided that a sense of reality was much more important to the story than grammatical exactitude.

Don’t Do It!

So Predator was published. Sales were actually pretty good, considering I was absolutely nobody (I’m still nobody, but not exactly on the bottom tier of nobodies). Then I made the mistake of going back, while I was working on my second novel, and reading my first novel. I don’t know what I was thinking. If you are a writer let me give you some advice — Don’t do that! Just focus on your next novel.

I found pages, chapters, and entire sections that I highlighted in my Kindle with the intention to completely rewrite them. I’m not just talking about edits and revisions. I’m talking about yanking them out and changing them completely. My work on the second book almost came to a screeching halt.

A Pointless Exercise

Eventually, I calmed down somewhat. My wife pointed out that the reviews were good except for one douche bag (her word not mine) who even admitted in the review he hadn’t read the book. He objected that a newcomer like me should have so many five star reviews and accused me of having a bunch of fake reviewers or of doing them myself. (For the record, they were not fake, and I did not do them if you are wondering) Her voice of reason pacified me, and frankly, she was right.

Since then, I almost never go back and reread my books. It is a pointless exercise. I would never have the time to go back and actually rewrite them and republish. I’ve got too many stories in my head waiting to come out. If you are a writer, I suspect that you do too. If you are a reader, you probably want to see the new stories.

No, in the end, I just have to trust that the story as it was first envisioned is the one that was supposed to be published.

Yes, my work is edited, proofread, beta read, sometimes reviewed before it is actually published. After that, I move on. If something needs to be improved in my writing, and I freely admit that there is much room for improvement, then I will work on it in my next project.

Stop Obsessing — Be the Writer You are Today

To my writer friends, I say, stop obsessing. You can’t go back and rewrite everything. Do your best impression of Hemingway and edit, extensively if necessary, and get it right the first time. Then, move on.

Making a career of writing is like embarking on a journey. You pass milestones. You go farther. You evolve. You become a better writer. Live with the writer you are today and be grateful for the one you were who started you on the journey. That writer, new and inexperienced, gave birth to the one you are today.

Comments

  1. The true artist always trying to improve upon his work….
    But some things do need to stay as they were first created and I, for one, am very glad you moved on to write more. I want to read all those stories in your head!

    • Thanks Arielle. That’s very kind. Working on getting one of those stories out right now, going through edits on “Nowhere Land”, Alice Trent’s latest adventure. I’ll keep you posted on progress.

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