Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Humility of Rewrites

I've decided why it is that I hate rewrites. Not the tweaky little rewrites that strengthen characters, fix grammar, destroy passive writing, and clarifying obscure passages. I mean the kind where you have to chuck entire chapters and start from scratch, annihilate plotlines and begin again.

It's because I hate admitting that what I have written is that bad. It is humbling to get back a crit that has more of my crit partners' comments than fiction text. When that happens, I tend to peek at it, skim the comments, then put it away so I can pout. I need a day or so to think about what they've said, put it in context, and come up with a backup plan. I need time to kill some pride, admit they are right (which they mostly are), and get myself into a place where I'm willing to learn, to improve, and to sacrifice the bad for the sake of strengthening the story.

Let's just say, this has been a humbling week.


  1. OK, I have actual tears in my eyes from laughing. I'm laughing because if you feel this way, I am your twin. I could have written this post myself. High five, sister! Thankfully we were both at the beginning, eh?

  2. I hate writing opening chapters anyway. It's always like a really bad blind date (not that I would know; I'm just imagining)--you arrive thinking you know what to expect and by the end of the evening (when you get your crit back), you realize you had no concept of what was really going to happen.

    Now that I've got the (second version of the) first three chapters of MFR out of the way, I'm setting them aside and just moving forward with the story, secure in the knowledge that I will most likely greatly revise if not completely rewrite at least the first chapter once the full ms is complete.

    As a SOTP writer, my problem with opening chapters is that I'm usually still in the process of figuring out exactly where the story is going and what the main source of conflict is going to be. I just hope that with MFR, I'm not going to have to go through three different versions of the first third of the book before I can get the rest of it written! (And I know my CPs hope so too!)

  3. I don't think what you have written can be called "bad". It's a draft, a shell. A place to start. By composting and rewriting, I think you make your story(ies)and characters more coherent and believable. Just my penny's worth.

  4. I feel your pain and echo what the other commenters have said. Whatever it takes to get to the heart of the story is HARD. Been there, done that. Still doing that. Keep at it, and the story will emerge.

  5. If it's a first draft, the crits are probably very helpful in knowing where to go from there. You can tell where the story flags and where you need to change things.

    If it's a draft you've spent some time on, then why not trust your first instinct? Maybe it's not bad at all but other people perceive it as something different than you do. Only you can tell your story. It doesn't mean a crit is either "right" or "wrong" but looking through a different lens.

    I've gotten crits back from judges in contests and they all seem to pick different things NOT to like. Very confusing.

  6. Yes, it's hard to scratch stuff and try to do better, but once you realize that "Hey, this scene is it!", the excitement boils over and there's no stopping you. I try to hang on for that aha moment.

    Here's a quote I love:
    "Rewriting--recognizing the opportunities that almost slipped away."

    I had that as the screen saver on my computer for several years.

  7. I love that quote, Sally! Do you know where it is from? Putting it as your screen-saver is brilliant. You'll see it every day that way.

  8. I knew I had this quote somewhere. It's from the series I did last year on opening lines and endings. Tony Hillerman as quoted in The Writer Magazine:

    “No matter how carefully you have the project planned, first chapters tend to demand rewriting. Things happen. New ideas suggest themselves, new possibilities intrude. Slow to catch on, I collected a manila folder full of perfect, polished, exactly right, pear-shaped first chapters before I learned this lesson. Their only flaw is that they don’t fit the book I finally wrote. Thus Hillerman’s First Law: Never polish the first chapter until the last chapter is written.”