Turn back the pages

I’ve just read a book that absolutely fascinated me. Great story, the author could work on his writing skills and maybe linger a bit more on some the better scenes. There’s lots of obscure legend and wordplay that is rather a waste of time, even if philosophically the author was presciently predictive about 2021 – and wrote it a decade before. I almost feel I know the author. His ideas are somewhat familiar to me.

I’ve been working on bringing some books out as Indies. I am waiting on my proof-readers to finish CLOUDCASTLES and so been looking at books where the rights have reverted or they’ve never been published. The result being re-reading books by a person I almost feel I know. Sometimes I could (and maybe should) write it better. Sometimes… well I feel I got it right. The scary part is knowing coarsely where it is going to come out, but not all the twists… and when I go through it remembering the research and things I make reference to, fleetingly.

Seriously, I think , as a writer, it’s a worthwhile exercise. Firstly, I keep seeing things I did wrong. I might fix a few of them. Secondly, well, it has me thinking about where the sequel to DOG & DRAGON (one the reverted books) would go. It’s also chock-full of Celtic myths and settings which I feel need more exploration. How do you feel about re-reading something you wrote ten years or more back and haven’t looked at since?

It’s… perhaps part of what we do, to try to recapture the past. The way we once were. I spent today at sea with an old commercial lobster-potter, filling in as the deckie, so he could go out to sea (bureaucracy – and besides it’s hard). He’s a grand, tough old man, still fishing in the way his forefathers fished (sight marks on the shore – not GPS, pots made by hand of tea-tree withy) and he’s been doing this for at least 70 years. It’s his life, the steady beat of the diesel I’ll swear makes the blood course in his veins. That era of fishing and fishermen is all but gone. But I am glad to have been there, to seen it, been part of the sweat and toil and the excitement too. There is an enormous and raw vitality there, men doing something that urban dwellers have all but forgotten what is, and how it feels. I ache. But there is an enormous and deep satisfaction to it. It takes me back down the ages. And likewise with those books. They take me back too. And at least for a while I am that man.

18 comments

  1. Put me in mind of this excerpt from an address Heinlein gave at Annapolis back in ’73.
    A transcript was later published in Analog under the title Channel Markers. Some aspects are dated, but it’s worth the read if anyone can find a copy.

    Would you refry an egg? Tear down a freshly built wall? Destroy a new chair? Ridiculous!
    This silly practice of rewriting is based on the hidden assumption that you are smarter today than you were yesterday. But you are not. The efficient way to write, as with any other work, is to do it right the first time!
    I don’t mean that a manuscript should not be corrected and cut. Few writers are perfect in typing, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Most of us have to go back and correct such things, and—above all!—strike out surplusage and fancy talk. The manuscript then needs to be retyped—for neatness; retyping is not rewriting. Rewriting means a new approach, a basic change in form.
    Don’t do it!
    A writer’s sole capital is his time. You cannot afford to start writing until you know what you mean to say and how you mean to say it. If you fail in this, it is not paper you are wasting but your sharply limited and irreplaceable lifetime.

    Side note: Cloud Castles is a lovely story and I fully expect both loyal fans and new readers are going to enjoy the heck out of it.

  2. Ah, hindsight. I had a bright idea about a backburnered story that would fix the issue.

    A total overhaul later….

  3. “Urban dwellers have all but forgotten.” I went last weekend to the local Renaissance Festival. It’s held in a field grown over a mined-out gravel quarry. Stood in line for tickets next to a man-bun wearing gold lame’ leggings under a kilt, shouting into a call phone: “I’m in this Grand Canyon thing, I dunno, it’s all rocks and mud.”

  4. Having just spent a lot of time with two older published novels (indie published) in an effort to publish second editions and other formats, I am left wondering how I pulled them off. I’m actually quite relieved that I can look at them after all this time and think I got them right. (Now the first novel I published that is not the case, and I’ve steadfastly refused to reread it all this time.) Rereading is both encouraging and discouraging: I don’t think that I’m an imposter. Or at least I wasn’t. But I don’t know if it matters. I live in the now. Like the wise man said, “You cannot step into the same river twice, for other waters are continually flowing on.”

  5. I’ve wondered if you’d be able to write the third Pyramid book (yes I know Baen isn’t interested in it).

  6. Last month, I got the second edit in (after two years) to Shattered Under Midnight. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered, and a lot of the things I thought I failed at, I look back now and go “good bones, but I needed to add this little extra to pull it off here. And add in more there, reword this bit over in that spot, and… it’s rough, but it’s not terrible.”

    I’m sure in 10 years, I’ll look back at it again, and go “Oh, that’s what I needed to put in to pull off this better, and there, I just needed to tweak it, and…”

    I’m divided on Heinlein’s advice, because he was writing for a world that was, and his advice to not rewrite makes perfect sense in that world – that once a thing was published, it stayed published, until it went out of print. But even then, I’m curious – did he change anything when the juveniles went from magazine issues to collected books?

    It is a good and solid thing to move on, instead of trying to fly the plane 5 miles back… but when your work is all under your control, and never goes out of print, I’m not sure the same rules apply anymore. Certainly, the books need recovered and often re-blurbed every few years, to hit the target market (it’s a moving target.) …or as our understanding of how to signal to that market that this is what they’re looking for grows and our skills increase.

    1. On Heinlein’s juveniles, much of the later changes in them were him re-adding stuff that his original editor wanted him to remove.

      For that matter, the originally published version of Stranger In A Strange Land had parts removed by the editor of the time.

      He republished Stranger with the removed parts restored.

      But this wasn’t “I think I can do a better job now” but “I didn’t like what the editor did to my book”.

    2. There are a few factors to consider: what I’d you’re editing away what the readers like? Or muddling it so it gets lost. That sort of thing is why I tend to avoid director’s cuts of movies and most rewrites after publication as a reader. Too often they mess with my favorite parts. There are exceptions, but they are exceptions not the main trend.

      Second from a writing perspective, it’s easy to get caught in endless loops of editing and forget to write. I have 34+ worlds I’m trying to get stuff out in at long last. Give me 10 years, if I started tweaking old booking never write new ones

    3. If you spend 1/N of a book in time per book, every M books, you can calculate the opportunity cost in books.

      If what you write isn’t something in the millions or tens of millions of words that needs to be a singular whole, what you improve on a per book basis is probably going to be less valuable than new books written at a higher skill level.

      Rewrite hell is a place. And rewrite singularities are possible. It is maybe possible to work your way out of rewrite hell.

      I actually have materials for a case study, someone else’s in progress serial that I’m a bit obsessed with, and I wouldn’t mind talking about it with someone more privately. (It is publicly up on the internet, but some of the current material doesn’t quite match some of what I had saved before.)

      I apparently like super crunchy, very long things.

    4. > did he change anything when the juveniles went from magazine issues to collected books?

      Sometimes, yes. A few novels were longer than the magazine serials, most were smaller. I compared sections of several of his novels, for “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress” and “Double Star” the novel version was shorter; most of it was chopping superfluous adjectives and adverbs. (possibly because he wasn’t being paid by the word for the novels, and the publishers wanted to cut the page count)

      “The Puppet Masters” grew about 20% for the novel, “Methuselah’s Children” was about the same, “The Star Beast” maybe 25% larger.

  7. I have an Indie book that I’ll be publishing soon (or perhaps soon-ish) that I originally wrote about ten years ago. Back then I had a feeling there was something broken about it, but I wasn’t sure what or how to fix it – not that I let that stop me from boldly submitting it to a publisher who sent me a very polite rejection letter in return. I moved on to other projects, but last year I took that story out to give it another read and all the parts where it went off the rails were clear as could be. I rewrote the broken bits, sent it off to an editor and based on her suggestions re-wrote it a bit more, and now I have a story that will be published soon(-ish). Going back to an old story worked out for me in this case (although I would rather not have a ten-year wait between the draft and the final copy be a standard thing).

    It was interesting reading some of those old broken bits, though, and remembering what I was thinking/intending when I had originally written them and then wondering whatever had possessed me to think they were good ideas.

  8. At some point, it’s going to become grandpappy’s axe (or some ship I never remember) that has been completely replaced yet is still somehow the same thing.
    That plot point about the elevator operator, rewritten. That plot point about the morse-code mistranscription, rewritten. That plot point about missed phone calls, rewritten. That plot point about breaking the encryption, rewritten. That plot point about balding/grey hair, rewritten. That plot point about not stopping to ask directions, rewritten. That plot point about actually going somewhere, rewritten.

  9. I am going through a lot of old projects and almost finished novels as I get edits (find typos, they breed) done on the three all the way finished books I have.

    There are about a dozen at the halfway or Swiss cheese first draft stage…all in different worlds. There are solid fragments from another 20 ish worlds.

    None of them are done enough to publish as is. And I have finally realized I cannot finish them. They don’t make the parts any more and the alloys are different. The patches would be obvious.

    Which means if I want those stories told to completion, I must start over. Begin at the beginning of writing (which for me is sometimes in the middle of the story) and tell the whole story this time. Otherwise the patches will be obvious even though no one else has read the original.

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