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Friday, December 23, 2011

When "Waste Not, Want Not" is a Bad Thing

Don Rocko and I are avid recyclers. Paper, cardboard, plastic ... we even have a compost. It's one way that we're lessening our collective carbon footprint. That's not all we do, but that's besides the point. For related reasons (the "reuse" part of the 3 R's), I'm a bit of a packrat.

And that's not a terrible thing, especially because I find it's often a useful money-saving trait. But as a blanket mentality, it's definitely a problem.

Because I am doing the same damn thing with my writing.

Rewrites are a necessity. A colleague of mine, whenever I tell him that I'm working on rewrites, likes to say, "writing is rewriting". And he's right, of course. Novels never spring fully formed and perfect from our heads. Rewrites will happen when we fix what our beta readers point out, when the agent asks us to make changes, and again when the publisher does, too.

The problem is that I've been rewriting and rewriting and rewriting and getting bogged down by the process.

The original SIGN OF THE STAR took me just over a year to write. But it was a 100K behemoth and desperately in need of a makeover. What's worse, the makeover involved splitting the manuscript into three. It's definitely a much better story for it now, but an overhaul of that magnitude took forever. An additional twenty-one months, to be precise—and that's just Book 1! Part of the reason why was that I didn't want to delete what I'd already written.

Now, I have my own valid concerns and mild phobias about forgetting and/or losing what I've created. But that packrat mentality has been holding me back, and I've only just realized the source of my frustration.

Digression: I have a trunked set of manuscripts (let's just call the whole lot "Takara", after the world I set it in) that I know are salvagable because I spent thirteen years, between the ages of twelve and twenty-five, pouring everything I had into them. Takara is my greatest heartsong, one I've given so much time and energy to that I know I will one day de-trunk it. (I love it enough to recognize that it's gonna stay trunked for some time.) Anyway, what strikes me is that when I was younger, I didn't hesitate to start over every few years and re-tell it better. Fresh. I recognized as I grew up with it that it needed work that a bit of tweaking wouldn't solve. And I was okay with that because I wanted to tell the story right.

So why did I stop doing that?

I don't know if I can pinpoint a single reason. Maybe it was that, as I got older, I started to think I was ready to seek publication. And that put pressure on me. (Read: I put pressure on myself.) I couldn't bear to start over, not when I felt so close. Oh, little did I know ...

So when it came time to break apart the original Janni story and craft the first volume of the trilogy, I took painstaking measures to save as much as I could, to build around what I had and enhance it. I was a packrat with my words. A miser. Trying to fill in the cracks of my work rather than starting over. And you know what that meant?

I no longer had a way of gauging how my writing has improved.

Don't get me wrong. I feel confident about SOTS now. I'm just saying that I went about it completely the wrong way.

I also haven't been engaging in nearly as much fresh writing as I'd like. In my drive to be published, I haven't taken as much time for fresh writing. I can be very crotchety about my writing time, given that I have a beloved but intense day job and other committments, like sword class and reading and oh, I don't know, friends and family. So some foolish part of me decided to categorize things like writing exercises and writing not related to SOTS as a waste of time.

This past Nano, I very quickly recognized that I was going nowhere with my attempts at STAR CHILD (SOTS #2). I was trying too hard to make my writing fit what I thought existed, and even just using that as a rough outline wasn't helping. (Especially since the story has changed so much.) So I started a new project, one whose ideas have been on the backburner and that I recently realized I wanted to bring to life. And it felt good.

Fresh writing is important. Even if it's just the same project, retold instead of tweaking, the way I did with the Takara stories. The point is that it's the creation of something new. And exercises, writing practice, don't take away from writing time. We've gotta lift weights to build muscle.

Realizing this has been a load off of my shoulders, to say the least.


  1. I think of fresh writing, drafting, as a way to keep all my writing tools sharpened. Enjoy!

  2. I've done that with a story of mine recently. Loved the story but trying to putty in all the cracks just wasn't working. So I skim read it over quickly to pick up the bits I wanted to keep and then deleted it. Starting writing it again and I'm already certain it was the best thing for the story.

  3. I stole a good kernel from my very first unpubbed novel for the WIP I'm wrapping up now. I rewrote it for about 6 years before I made the decision to completely shelve it last year. It was hard but so worth it. Not saying you need to shelve your project! But, yes, I totally agree in the power (and joy!) of fresh drafting. Thanks for sharing the epiphany!

  4. Thanks, Angelina. And like a forgotten muscle, fresh writing demands regular stretching, too, lest it wither.

    Rachelle, glad to hear I'm not the only one dealing with this. I've got three separate stories that I'd like to pull this on. But I also think what you've suggested, skimming over it to pick up the important bits, would really help because then I can create an outline from it to move forward with.

    Kip, I don't think I need to shelve my projects, but allowing myself the space and permission to rewrite fresh scenes and even some projects from the ground up will definitely help me move forward.

  5. YAY to fresh writing!!! If you're not excited about your words, it will definitely come across to the reader. So happy for your new project. Best wishes!