If At First You Don’t Succeed
I hesitate to say that sometimes you need to rewrite. I hesitate to say it, because writers are crazy people, and given half a chance will spend their entire lives rewriting the One True Book, which frankly, more likely than not was never worth that much effort, and would turn out a dud in either case.
I heard Kevin J. Anderson himself compare book writing/publishing to making popcorn. You can pick the one perfect kernel, adjust the oil and heat just so… and if it’s a dud, it will never pop. Or you can put some oil in the bottom of a pan, throw some corn in, put the lid on (important. First month of marriage, my brother and his bride forgot this step in making popcorn. My father found them, advancing on the corny artillery, using pan lids as shields.) And chances are you’ll have a bunch of duds but also a ton of very good popcorn.
And yet, you must understand that analogy above is the whole and complete range of your choices. Let me explainYou can either do a bunch of books — this seems to work particularly well with indie and trust on quantity — or you can do the One True Book.
If for some reason you stop believing you can revise, and start believing that work must leave your hands perfect the first time, you’ll find yourself caught in the coils of perfecting the oil, the temp, the pan, all of which will consume your life, make you neurotic, and result in your never finishing anything.
But Sarah, you’ll say, are you doubting Heinlein’s third rule? Never revise except to editorial demand?
Oh, bother. No.
The problem is that “revision” is a very broad term. Sure, once you’re DONE with a book (which btw should take no more than three passes, under ANY circumstances) you should not under any circumstances go back and “revise” particularly when you’re a young and inexperienced writer. Your revision is in fact likely to kill either the voice or the plot. Take it from a woman who started out both hyper-grammatically-correct or — heaven help the chilluns and innocents! — a putter-inner, which meant I kept tossing more and more stuff in, till the book resembled soup.
But your finished book can have up to three passes.
Look, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I plot by fits of genius. What I mean is, no matter how exactly plotted my books are, suddenly in the middle of it I’ll have an insight that elevates the whole thing. Or I’ll suddenly figure out my villain really loves bears and that’s why he can’t eat the chocolate teddy. Or…
Or I’ll stop before a big fight scene. I’m not the most visual person alive. Also, often I’m ill or just not feeling it. So I stop before I write a fight scene. The stop can then turn into months, through lack of habit.
What can I do instead? Go “write it whichever way. Fix it in post.” This works great, because at that point, for some reason, I’m no longer anxious about “can I write it.” Also I usually do this phase long hand, which is also easier to visualize.
So, my second pass (first is to finish the book, however bungled) is to do things like make sure all the foreshadowing points right. Characters don’t suddenly change names. (One of the ones in current book was named xyz because I need to look up her name pages before.) Characters didn’t change descriptions/origin/way of talking. Make sure I didn’t shy away from things I tend to shy away from, like, oh, fight scenes. Make sure if I only figured on page 100 that they needed a sword, I give them a sword on page 60. Etc. I call this “Lady Catherine will never know” (From the pride and prejudice mini series from A & E when Maria is refolding all her gowns so they’re the way Lady Catherine said they must be folded and Elizabeth says, “They’re your gowns. Fold them any way you want, Lady Catherine will never know.)
Trust me, if you do this second pass well, your readers will never have a clue that you spent half the book calling your supporting character Maryhadalittlelamb because you kept forgetting how to spell her name. Or that your fight scene that is now spectacular and really elevates the climax of the book used to be two lines, “We fought. Mike killed the demon. Mary cried. We were done.” This is because your readers will never see your draft. Or at least, not while you’re alive. You can donate the manuscript to a library or something, and have people debate what you meant by Maryhadalittlelamb for CENTURIES after you’re dead. But you’ll be dead, and either not care, or be able to point and laugh where they can’t reach you. Either way you’re cool.
The third pass is trivial, and it’s to make sure you don’t have any [make sure I look up name of the damn castle] still left in your manuscript. Also to make sure that your verbs are verbing properly, etc. Language pass.
And then give it to your betas, and copyeditors, and put it out in the great big world. And don’t change it unless someone is waving money in front of your face.
Because, you know what, I ALSO suffer from this. In the book I’ve restarted and am writing (That could count as a rewrite, but it’s more a recasting, because the other character just didn’t “connect” with my mind.) my mind keeps going “you started too early. You should start with her in space.” Forget it jack. Let it go. Maybe there is an optimal starting place, but that way lies madness. This is where the voice started, this is where I write it.
Not ideal? Probably not. Nothing is. OTOH I bet you when released this book will be both someone’s favorite of my books, and someone’s least favorite. Every book is. Let it ride.
However, now that I remembered I’m allowed to do multiple passes on a book — what? No, I have no explanation, except I was very ill for a while, and finding enough “up” time to write once was hard enough, much less time for other passes — I’m writing again, regularly and things are getting finished. (Deep Pink is in second pass. Alien Curse is chugging along.)
If you’re stuck and not feeling it? Write a crappy first draft. You can always do a second pass later.
Lady Catherine — and/or your readers — will never know.