The “Rewrite” Debate

I recently stumbled upon this post and it got me thinking…

Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Publishing: #3…Rewriting

If you haven’t read it, the author claims that nothing good comes out of “rewriting.” He is not talking about editing, proofreading, or adding minor changes. He is talking about when an author goes back and extensively restructures the story.

His claim is that rewriting is a purely critical function, which squashes the author’s creativity. The first draft is the creative draft and therefore worth more. He supplied supporting evidence with multiple examples of writers who swear against rewrites, simply passing through a couple drafts before moving on to another work.

There are a few things that I want to say.

First, I understand the merit in always moving forward. Writers truly do learn by practice and experimentation and I know firsthand the deep trap of holding onto one story and always trying to “fix it.”

However. I can’t believe that stories cannot be “fixed.” The author who wrote that piece above seems to believe that once your first draft is written your creative juices are spent on that project. I disagree. I would like to argue that writers’ minds work differently. My logical/critical mind marries very nicely to my creative mind.

Oftentimes my first draft is courageously creative. I branch out, go wild, and follow my gut. Sometimes my “logical mind” chimes in enough where I have a very strong first draft that only needs a few tweaks. Other times I recognize there are major shortcomings and I try to find what’s wrong.

I have two books which I have rewritten over many years. Yet I would strongly argue that both of these books got better and better. The first book I finished at nineteen. It wasn’t very good–but the characters and the story I wanted to communicate were important to me. So I didn’t give up. Over the next five to six years I rewrote and restructured the novel, keeping the characters and their journeys much the same, but changing major plot points. The second one followed a similar, shorter journey.

I am so glad I didn’t give up on them. I had something I wanted to communicate. I suppose I could have moved on to another novel, but it would have traveled down a similar path. Now I feel like I have finally communicated what I wanted to and done these characters justice.

But I will grant something else: these two projects have often bogged me down and limited the other content I’m writing. The problem with rewriting is that you often work in isolated chunks. It could be infuriating. And it wasn’t until I paused and started a new novel that I saw growth. It was an opportunity to surge ahead. I saw how much I’d grown and I challenged myself anew. It was healthy.

So, again I come back to one of my favorite mantras: balance. I probably need to lean more on the side of drafting and moving forward. But I want to stand up and say that sometimes rewriting a story that is important to you is worth it!

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