This post came from a dialogue I recently had with my husband. I lamented that I didn’t think I was doing things “right” for the romance genre, and that maybe I should change parts of the story (specifically, my heroine’s backstory and the circumstances around her meeting my hero). He didn’t exactly put his foot into my behind and tell me not to start rewriting the beginning, but he did ask what it would accomplish for the story. And he managed to bring up a plot point – a very important one, actually – that would be radically changed if I went back and switched things around. That conversation – and its associated realisations – are what prompted this post.
Most any real writer – whether professional or amateur – would agree that rewrites can lead to doom.
I’m not talking about the necessary editing that occurs with all work: where the writer and his or her editor (or editors) go through the story as a whole, make notes, and decide on changes. Those rewrites are good.
I’m talking about the rewrites that occur in our heads. When we get frustrated with a story and think, “What am I doing wrong?” That’s when we are in danger of stopping our progress and going back to “fix” things that may not even need fixing at all. When we somehow decide (usually in a fit of depression or anxiety) that everybody else is doing this so much better, and if we wrote just like him or just like her, we’d be successful and the masses would love everything we put down on paper.
While that last sentence is a fallacy in and of itself, the real danger here is not really in the changing of a story. Any or all stories can change, over time. Most of them likely will. Some stories are almost living things, metamorphosing from a simple idea to a more complex one (or sometimes vice versa).
No, the danger, here, is the stopping progress part, the going back to fix part. It’s likely not the right thing for me to use this space to yell at you fine readers, but I speak from experience:
Never, ever do this!
When we stop moving forward with a story that isn’t yet finished, that story is in danger of never becoming finished. And a story that isn’t finished won’t get published anywhere. Worse, though, in my opinion, is that that story falls into Limbo. The characters are left hanging, the plot remains unresolved, and there’s another couple hundred hours lost to…what? Nothing?
Switching gears helps a lot of writers to get back on track. There’s nothing wrong with that. Taking a break is also a great idea for many of us. We can’t concentrate 100% on the same thing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and not get brain-strain from it all.
But, for pity’s sake, force yourself to finish your story before you start to go back and change huge chunks of it. A large percentage of want-to-be writers are only want-to-be writers because they never actually finish anything. Be part of the few. Even if the story is crap, at least it will be completed crap. That’s more than most have to their name.
Hm, no wonder I got so stuck on my fic. I can’t remember how many changes I made in the first part of Ch20, so much so that I would look at my notes and want to give up because of how complex it was and how many changes I kept making. I do plan on finishing it, even if it takes a few more years.
Totally understandable, that, o spooney one. There are parts of a story that don’t read “right” to me when I put them down on the page, so I do re-work them. What’s dangerous is when you’re at Chapter 20 and you start to go back and change Chapter 1, because you think (or know) you can do better. In that case, I’ve found it’s better to make notes for those changes, but just keep moving forward until you’re done. It’s always easier to go back and change what’s already there…than to put down new words on the page.
There’s certainly no rush to finish anything. But I think it’s worth finishing, if you’ve already devoted this much time and effort to it. But that’s your decision, too.
Don’t worry; I never have any intention to go back and fix previous chapters. For me, I see the mistakes as a constant reminder of what not to do next time. And hopefully, other readers might learn to not make those same mistakes, either! That, and I’m just too lazy to go back and fix things (I have a time-frame of a few days after uploading a chapter that I don’t mind fixing mistakes).
Lately, I do find myself daydreaming about future events in future chapters, so I think that means that I’ll still be working on it. Besides, just reading about your two characters inspired me to do a bit of writing for it (it’s just that I keep getting interrupted from actually sitting down and doing so). But I do plan on getting a new chapter up in the next few months!