Another rewriting question

Herenya asked:

One question on rewriting, about when you rewrite. I’ve read things which say you shouldn’t mix writing and rewriting. Write it all first, then rewrite it. I can understand that “creative” and “analytical” hats can be conflicting and that sometimes one has to just write crap first before improving upon it (which is difficult if you’re thinking critically), but I generally find I bounce back and forth between rewriting previous sections and writing more. Is this such a terrible thing to do?

If mixing rewriting and writing works for you then go for it!1

My partner, Scott, spends the first few hours of his writing day rewriting the previous three days work. Once he’s got that under control, and only then, does he move onto fresh writing.

Me, I rewrite (while writing the first draft) only if I’m a stuck on the next bit. On the mornings when I wake up and know exactly what needs to happen next, I dive into it. On the mornings I don’t, I procrastinate endlessly rewrite or go back and fill in the blanks where I have notes to myself like [something should explode here] or [figure out where this conversation’s happening] or [what happened to the quokkas?].

For a lot of writers the difference between the “writing” and the “rewriting” can be blurry. If you work according to Scott’s method then your finished first draft is more like a third or fourth draft because every section has been gone over at least three times. You work according to mine then you’ve got lots of actual first draft but also some second, third, fourth, or whatever.

I know some writers who really don’t read over any of what they’ve written until they’ve got a whole draft, but I suspect they’re rare. I know of one writer who burns2 that first draft and then starts over from scratch. Some writers have gone over their work so many times by the time their “first” draft is finished they don’t need to “rewrite” at all, they’re done.

That’s one of the brilliant things about the intramanets: all the writers’ blogs and essays and interviews online means it’s dead easy to see just how widely varied writing practice is and how contradictory all the gobbets of writing advice.

Whatever works for you is the way to re/write.

Just remember that can change from story to story and from day to day. Sometimes Raymond Chandler’s advice of hanging out in the one room and not having to write, but not being allowed to do anything but write will be just the ticket. Frankly, it’s never worked for me unless I have a heinous deadline and the room I’m in has no intramanets or books or telephone or packs of cards or, well, you get the idea.

  1. As a general rule be suspicious of all writing rules. []
  2. figuratively speaking []


  1. Patrick on #

    I find it is easiest just to write it perfect the first time.

  2. adrienne vrettos on #

    I really like to get as far as I can into a first draft before revising, or even re-reading it. It’s often a hot mess by the time I do sit down to mark it up, but I find being able to read the whole the thing from start to almost finish really, really enjoyable.

  3. Justine on #

    Patrick: Uh huh.

    Adrienne: It can be fun, can’t it?

  4. PJ Hoover on #

    I try to get through the whole thing first before doing any rewrites. When I find something which requires a plot change, instead of going back and changing it right away, I insert a comment so I go back to it as soon as the first draft is done.
    But I do like Patrick’s philosophy. Sounds like a good New Year’s Resolution.

  5. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    i’m kind of like scott, in that i like to go over the last few days’ writing before i start in again. but, unlike scott, i don’t do much with it, i just make notes or change small things. it helps me get back in the flow, and sometimes even catch oddness or offness i missed when i first wrote it.


  6. Kadie-Wa on #

    I find it easer to rewrite when I have to. Like, if I find spots where i made huge mistakes, or if someone else notices them. Or else, I would rather not rewrite at all. It’s tough!!

  7. Rebecca on #

    lately, i’ve become an extremely superstitious writer, b/c it seems like one tiny thing can screw it all up. part of that is that i’m afraid to go back and reread anything i’ve written, b/c what happened in the past was that i’d go back and then get hung up on revising what i’d already done, and then i’d never finish it. finishing is hard enough without finding one more way to distract myself. there were two first drafts i wrote without once going back and so much as peeking at them. most of the time, i only go back if i have to remember some minor character’s name or the color of someone’s hair, etc.

    but i think i’m weird. 😛 and it’s soooo hard not to go back and start reading. it’s much easier to just read, rather than figure out what to do next.

  8. carrie on #

    I rarely revise as I go because i never know where i’m going and will usually end up changing things later in the plot that will require me to go back and fix earlier things. it’s not until i get to the end that i know if things will be set in stone enough to revise. crazy, i know.

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