As a writer who is friends with LOTS of other writers on a variety of social networks, I tend to be exposed to a large number of writing related quotes. Some are brilliant. Some are hilarious…and some make me wonder if I’m doing things wrong.
The thing is, there seem to be a great deal of writers out there who enjoy re-writing their stories. I’m not one of them. I pretty much write the book the way I intend for it to be the first time around. Now, I’m not saying I haven’t ever re-written anything. I definitely have. Usually it’s the parts I forced myself to write even when I knew I was getting off track and needed to step away. Those are also the parts I wrote shortly before my computer fell ill to a near deadly virus – or crapped out on me all together. My point is, I’ve learned to follow my instincts when it comes to writing because I know if I don’t, I not only will end up deleting and re-writing, I’ll also need to buy a new computer because the universe will step in and put a stop to my half-assed writing one way or another.
In addition to the fans of the re-write, there are those who believe that in order to write a good book you have to cut a third of it out after you’re done, as if the masterpiece is hiding somewhere buried within an excess of unneeded words. Well, again, I say…I wrote it the way I meant to the first time. I didn’t add three pages of fluff that had nothing to do with the story…why would I waste my time like that? And I’m not saying I’m in some way a superior writer, quite the contrary, reading these quotes and snippets of wisdom make me question myself and my work over and over again. I wonder if I should be scrapping 2/3 of every first draft. If I should produce at least five versions of the original story before it is even worthy of being read by another human being. I wonder…but I don’t change. And here’s why ~
It will never be perfect.
It’s as simple as that. I could sit down right now and find things to change on a book I wrote two years ago, because really no story is ever finished. The only reason you’ve been able to read it and reach ‘the end’ is because I wrote it there and I made it so. It was a conscious decision and every writer has to make it at some point in the writing process. The key is figuring out when.
From what I’ve seen there are two main types of writers when it comes to making this decision. There are those who write a first draft, believe that it is brilliant as is and proceed to publishing. Don’t be that guy. Nobody writes a brilliant first draft. Even if you wrote every aspect of the story as intended, even if you didn’t add random pages of dialogue that don’t move the plot onward, even if you have a supernatural talent for always writing error free – your first draft is not ready!
Then we move to the other end of the spectrum to the writer who writes and re-writes the same book 25 times and still isn’t satisfied. Don’t be that guy either or your book will never see the light of day…and it deserves to. You wrote it. You poured your heart and soul into it, now get out of the way before your head goes in and makes a big mess of things.
Want my advice? Well, you’re gonna get it either way…
Write your first draft. Write it well and follow your instincts. You know damn well when you are writing crap, so don’t do it. When you catch yourself – stop! You need a break. Step away and come back when you’re ready. In the long run you’re saving yourself a lot of wasted time and words.
Once you’re finished let it breathe for a moment. At least overnight. Then, go through and edit and revise. This is your opportunity to fix anything that doesn’t quite make sense, to flesh things out a bit more where needed or to scrap what you don’t.
Now that you’ve had your say, pass the story on to someone new. Send it out to as many beta readers as you can get your hands on and then sit back and wait. When every last one of them has read it and you’ve received all of their feedback, open up that file again and have another go at it. This is probably my favorite round of editing because I get to discover all of the mistakes I didn’t know I made while writing because I already knew the story. For example, in my most recent novel there was a scene where my protagonist should have asked about her daughter, only I didn’t think to write that part in until a beta reader pointed it out because naturally, I already knew her daughter was fine 😉 – side note – Beta Readers ROCK!
Now that you’re holding draft number three in your hands, move on to your editor. After it comes back yet again covered in notes and red ink, sit down once more for your final clean up.
Draft five. That’s the magic number. Now you’re ready. Well, as ready as you’re ever gonna be. Some writers recommend sending it through one more cycle with a proofreader, but that would take me to draft number six, which might be fine for you, but I have a thing with numbers and don’t like six so I would have to skip it and find a way to get to seven…and there’s no way I’m doing that.
Are my books perfect? No. But I’m pretty sure the perfect book has yet to be written, so I’m okay with that. Do I wish some of my earlier works were up to the same standard I’ve been able to achieve with my more recent books? Obviously. And I make continuous improvements when I can because I absolutely agree that it is important to strive for quality. Thing is though, I’m also working on quantity…and there’s no way I’d ever have enough time to tell all the crazy stories floating around up in here if I was still hung up on finding new and improved ways to tell the first one.