ideation / writing

Perpetual Rewriting in the ePublishing Era

“Hi – my name is Bill, and I’m a rewrite-aholic.”

Yes, I confess – when I first decided to seriously pursue my writing “career” (hmmm – when will I feel confident of dropping the quotes on that?), I started out with one of the same afflictions that shuts down many (most?) writers – the inability to leave well enough alone. It’s very easy to get trapped in an infinite loop of rewriting your work “just one more time”.

My first two stories each took me two years to finally stop rewriting and send out to market. At this rate, I could have hoped to completed another dozen stories before I either died of old age or went too senile to write. Fortunately for me, I keyed into Heinlein’s Rules For Writing. Here they are for the uninitiated:

  1. You must write.
  2. You must finish what you write.
  3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
  4. You must put your work on the market.
  5. You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

It wasn’t that I had never seen these rules before – I spent about six years between studying what I should do to become a writer and working on those first two stories, and I know I read Heinlein’s rules several times during my “education.” I can be a bit dense, though, and sometimes I have to be beaten over the head with something before a thought truly enters my mind (just ask my wife.) It also helps to have something else break me from routine – in this case, it was six solid months of frustration with my inability to keep any sort of writing schedule. I read those rules again, and took them to heart.

As a result of following the first three rules, it no longer took me two years to finish a single story – I ramped up annual production in those years to 6, 12, 15, and 16 stories. Most of those stories are online now, and when I compare them with the first two, there is no real qualitative difference, even though I refrained from rewriting (if anything, the later stories, even though not rewritten, are better because of the learning that comes with writing several new stories instead of writing the same story over and over  – and over-again.)

Technology used to discourage rewriting (at least for someone like me.) In the old days before word-processors and PCs, you would have to retype at least one page (if not your entire manuscript) to make a simple change. Even in the early days of PCs, being published meant ON PAPER, which in turn made the idea of rewriting ludicrous, and that was definitely where the rewriting came to an end.

The advent of ePublishing and POD (print on demand) has changed this as well. Now you can rewrite until you publish, and even then you can change it any time you want. I can see the possible temptation that arises in that (especially for those who were already susceptible to Rewrite Syndrome) – if it’s easier to rewrite than it used to be, it’s harder to resist (sort of like the difference in how many people are going to start smoking pot when it’s legal vs. when it’s a crime – make it easier and less costly, and look what happens…)

So why do I bring this up? Well, after I completed the rough draft of Swordsmaster (my first novel), I turned to writing two more short stories (to meet my goal for the year – don’t knock goal-setting around me.) One of them is done except the final clean-up.

Then I bent my attention to my 4th Detective Jimmy Delaney story. This being a series, and it being two years since I last wrote about Jimmy, I pulled together my notes for the first three (“In a Flash”, “Mixed Signals”, and “The Right Idea”) and then took to rereading the stories – and found myself distracted by my own writing from two, three, and four years ago. I muttered things like “that sounds awful clunky”, “it should say this instead”, “who wrote this, anyway?”

Oh, yeah – it was MY writing, wasn’t it?

Let me clarify something before I give the wrong impression: aside from 2 actual mistakes (a missing word in one story, a swapped piece of punctuation in another), almost everything that bothered me wasn’t really wrong or bad – I could just see ways that I could make it better.  I didn’t have to do it, except there it was in front of me, and all I had to do was edit 3 stories while I was reading them anyway, then copy the changes to the various versions and republish.

It took a day or two of my precious time; it’s all done now, but like I said, I didn’t have to, and I got to thinking. If it was so easy for me to succumb to this, then how REALLY HARD it must be for your typical writer to resist the PERPETUAL REWRITING that modern tech makes possible.

For all my years of learning this craft, I have heard that no story is ever finished, and certainly not perfect. The writer just eventually stops rewriting it and it’s published. Except that NOW, even if it is published, there’s NOTHING to stop the writer from continuing the rewriting process other than a supreme act of self-control.

For me, it’s not that hard to resist – all I have to do is consider the following:

  1. No story is EVER perfect – especially in the eyes of the author.
  2. No matter how many times I rewrite a story, a year later I will be a better writer than I was the last time I rewrote it – I will never be able to write as well now as in the future.
  3. I learn more by writing a new story than by rewriting completed ones – so it is a better guarantee of my personal growth to ignore what I’ve already written in favor of totally new production.
  4. Here’s a trickier consideration – each time you rewrite, you are altering the voice (created by your left brain) and superimposing the homogenizing rules of your right brain. Do this enough times, and your story loses what made it unique.

So even though I went ahead and revisited Jimmy’s stories this go round, I won’t be rereading any of my own work anytime soon. At least not until I go to write my 4th installment of Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire  (and I guess we’ll see then how much self-control I really have.)

Just saying…

<<<>>>

The pre-order campaign is over – Cats of War I  is now totally live. This is a collection of my first three Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire stories (“Purr-Mission”, “Nipped in the Butt”, and “Cat and Mouse”), set in a cat-dominated world and include space adventure, treachery, intrigue, germ (and other) warfare. And yes, it’s humorous, too.

The collection is still available at a REDUCED PROMOTIONAL PRICE through sometime today or so (sorry to be vague – the unstaging of the promo price is not an exact science.)

Here’s the Smashwords link:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/588921?ref=NoTimeToThink

And here’s the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B017E9TPFK?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

<<<>>>

William Mangieri’s writing can be found in many places, including:

To CONNECT WITH HIM (and LIKE and FOLLOW), go to

His site on WordPress: https://williammangieri.wordpress.com

“William Mangieri’s Writing Page” on Facebook at:

http://www.facebook.com/NoTimeToThink

His Goodreads author page: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6893616.William_Mangieri

Or on twitter: @WilliaMangieri

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