Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Write or Rewrite?

To Write, or to Rewrite? That is the question. Whether it is nobler in the mind's eye to revisit the slings and arrows of outrageous criticism . . .

Nope, the metaphor just died there. Sorry. The criticism isn't that outrageous. It's pretty spot-on, actually. 

I've noticed a trend in constructive criticism of my westerns. The short list is:

1. Heroines that are too vulnerable (read: weak); or 
2. Heroines that are too strong (read: angry) (for some unknown reason, the middle ground is unreasonably difficult for me);
3. Waaaaay too much backstory up front (backstory is exactly what it sounds like--the background story of a character. You know, stuff like where they went to college, when they first got drunk, when they first kissed a boy--all stuff I think about, but most of which bores the socks off readers when presented in one whole chapter while the rest of the world is waiting to meet the hunky hero on horseback);
4. Overbearing mothers (which, I'm sure, has absolutely nothing to do with that whole 'write what you know' cliche) (Hi, Mom!).

Right now, I have a book--Mystic Cowboy--that isn't on a shelf, but it's near one unless I get off my fanny and do some rewriting. Rebel and Madeline are anxious to get away from any and all shelves and start making the editorial rounds.

But, at the same time, I'm working on that category, Indian Princess. Dan and Rosebud don't want me to ditch them for Rebel and Madeline. They want to get to the good parts right now

Dan and Rosebud are winning. I tell myself it's because I'm getting some 'distance' from Mystic Cowboy, so that my eyes will be fresher when I go back to it. Also, I have some beta readers who are going to rip it to shreds for me next week--I should wait to hear what they say before I rip it to shreds myself.

But those are just excuses. The fact of the matter is that writing a book is always a better time than rewriting a book. Writing a book is all about exciting new characters doing exciting new things--some of which are surprises until the words hit the page. It is, well, exciting. (Yes, I have two degrees in English literature. That's the vocab you get on a Tuesday morning.) 

Rewriting means admitting that your stuff wasn't as awesome as you thought it was. I'm a typical oldest child. Ask my sisters, and they'll tell you, I like to think I'm always right. I hate to feel like I screwed something up, especially something I like to think I'm good at. I know I'm not supposed to take it personally, but try telling that to my ego. 

I know a lot of other pre-published authors struggle with this. Should I go back and fix, or just move forward?

Here's why you have to rewrite. The only great piece of writing that was ever produced without any editing whatsoever was Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," which he never finished because he was proving an opium-based philosophical point. Everything else in this world has had an editor, and everything else in this world has had rewrites. (Insert your own joke about the Ten Commandments here.)

For pre-published writers, rewriting is a chance to get elbow-deep in the process of learning from your mistakes (wear gloves, because it's going to be messy). That first book I wrote almost three years ago is still God-awful, but the nine months it took to revise and rewrite that thing taught me more than any class ever could. To write or to rewrite is really a trick question, because rewriting IS writing. Don't fall into the false dichotomy trap! (There, that was a five dollar word. Happy?)

The trick is to know take what you learned on the last book and carry it over to the next book (hence no more overbearing mothers!), with the ultimate goal of having to do fewer rewrites. With any writing, you've got to take the good, leave the bad, and walk on. 

Happy Rewrites!


Blythe Gifford said...

Actually, for me, it is always easier to re-write. And re-write. And re-write. And still be on the same page...
In general, for a pre-pub, I'd say move on. Remember, you have to write one million words to become a pro. Better if they are not all on the same story.

Sarah M. Anderson said...

That's the hard part of being pre-pubbed--knowing when to walk away from a book because it's just not going to get any better. I learned a lot in those nine months of rewrites, but no amount of edits could save it.

Sarah said...

I'm personally a fan of angry heroines. ;)

Sarah M. Anderson said...

Yes, I'm quite fond of angry heroines myself . . .

lucylucia said...

Hmmm. I have no advice in this area, but I support whatever you decide!