Rewriting Is Not Writing
We often hear the saying, "Writing is rewriting."
Dean Wesley Smith disagrees, he does not believe that rewriting can make a story better. Dean writes:
In the early stages you are better off just trusting your natural instincts, your natural voice, write on the creative side, and then just let it go to an editor. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.That advice may seem radical--and it's certainly not heard often--but one could argue (as Dean does) that it's really a different way of saying what Robert A. Heinlein said in his rules:
1. You must write.
2. Finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4. You must put your story on the market.
5. Keep your story on the market until it sells.
Creative Mode vs Critical Mode
Ever since I first read Dean Wesley Smith's views on rewriting, that was some time ago, one thing that didn't sit right with me was the idea that rewriting couldn't improve a story.
For instance, I remember getting feedback on one of my first novels; specifically, that the pacing in the first quarter of the book was off. It didn't take me long, a couple of hours, and I fixed the problem. I sent the book out again to my readers and they agreed it was much better.
But I think, now, I might understand what Dean's saying.
When I made those changes to my novel I was still in creative mode. Dean writes:
Creative voice is the white-hot heat you feel when creating. Sometimes, granted, it burns like an ember and it doesn’t feel so hot, other times it is a rushing fire of words. But the words always come out of the creative side of your brain. That is the key, learning how to stay completely, no matter what method you use, in the creative side of your brain.My readers had shown me a place where the story wasn't communicated to my readers. So I didn't change the story, I just improved the transmission of the story.
Long-term professional writers like me can turn the creative voice on instantly. I call it a “switch on my butt.” When I sit down in front of my writing computer (different from my e-mail computer) I automatically just drop into creative mindset. It takes time to train that switch, but after millions and millions of words, it becomes automatic.
The critical side of your brain is where your English teacher lives, where that awful book by Strunk and White lives, where your workshop and all their voices lives. The critical side of your brain wants you to write safe stuff, wants it to not offend anyone or go outside of any rule. The critical side of your head thinks your own voice is dull and will always work to take it out.
No professional writer I have ever met writes quality fiction out of their critical side. No matter how many drafts they do. All drafts are done in creative voice except for the last draft of fixing mistakes found by a first reader.
Recently I wrote a short story, wrote it fast--it was like a creative gale was blowing through me, sandblasting the words onto paper. Afterward I gave it to my first reader and he pointed out a few things that were extraneous to the story as well as a couple of places I hadn't been clear. I took the story back, worked on it for a couple of hours, and it was done.
I have the feeling that particular story won't be universally liked--it's just not that kind of story--but it's done. I've communicated the story. If I started rewriting it the freshness of the passion I had, the passion that I think is evident in the language, would seep away.
That said, if there is a detail or two my readers would like put in, an explanation of how something came about, that sort of thing, I'm game.
I want to be clear that I'm not saying a manuscript can be sent out with incorrect spelling and bad grammar. Far from it! But I think Dean's right. We learn most from writing, not rewriting.
Question: What do you think? Does rewriting lie at the heart of the craft or does it bleed out all that is unique/creative/original?
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