Friday, October 21, 2011

On Revising Too Early

Several weeks ago I mentioned how I had stopped working on the current chapter of my first draft to go back and revise some earlier chapters. I know you’re not supposed to do this, but after battling a chapter for a while and not seeing much progress, I find that going back to those earlier chapters (which are usually in much better shape) helps reenergize me again.

The question, of course, is what happens when you go back to an earlier chapter and discover that it’s just as wretched as the chapter you abandoned? So much for reenergizing.

And that’s what I’ve been struggling with the past two weeks. Chapters 10, 11, and 13 were fine. They still need a lot of work, but I could show them to someone and they’d be able to figure out what was going on. Chapters 12 and 14 were steaming piles of crap. It was quite the shock.

Why were these chapters so much worse than I remembered? Simple. Back when I wrote them, I hadn’t yet begun reading about scenes and structure. Now that I’ve read James Scott Bell’s Plot and Structure, along with a good heaping of blog posts on the subject, I realize I have a lot of revising to do.

That’s the problem with learning while you write.

Question: What writing technique have you learned in the middle of a manuscript that made you want to go back and do it all over?


  1. Even though everyone advises against it, I am a revise as I go type of writer, so I understand why you went back to earlier chapters when you got stuck. However, the problem you ran into is probably why so many advise not doing it that way. The first draft is meant to be crap. Just get from beginning to end and worry about going back with your newly acquired Plot and Structure techniques on the second run through. Best of luck!

  2. Oh man, this absolutely happened to me! I starting writing a story, my very first one. I was proud of it and loved it. But then I started wanting to go back and change a few things here and there. And that's when I realized there is a difference between telling a story (girl does x, then does y) and storytelling (girl does x, which inadvertently caused y, much to boy's utter dismay)...

  3. I just learnt about buried dialogue.

    Sarah thought about her work. "It's rubbish" she said. Then she cried.

    Sarah thought about her work.
    "It's rubbish".
    She began to cry.

    Not a great example but it reads better the second way. I want to go back and fix all the earlier stuff.

  4. I love It has taught me lots about writing. One thing they said was that the beginning will always change after you write the book. Well I just wrote a beginning that was 'good enough'. I started learning about how important the hook is and I decided to re-write my beginning. It took a couple of times but I wrote a beginning that is much better than before.

    Keep going, you are doing great with your writing!

  5. I don't think any new techniques should make you go back and change things. I think if you learn a new technique you should just apply it to the next story.

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Sarah M., I don't think I have any choice. The current version of the story will be utter crap if I don't go back and fix it eventually. I don't want to wait until the next story to get this right.

    Mel, It's pretty ironic that my first chapter -- the one I've had to (almost) completely scrap by now -- was the chapter that taught me how much fun it is to write fiction. I really loved that chapter and hated to give it up, but it was wrong for a number of reasons.

    Sarah P, Argggg! Thanks for giving me another thing to look for as I go back and revise my manuscript. ;)

  7. Usually I try to write straight through, but I got stuck on my WIP at 40k. I went back and edited the first half which was amazingly reenergizine- like you said. I think it's a matter of not editing too much editing and running out of steam.

    When I learn new techniques, I try not to worry about it and see if I can fit them in at the end.

    p.s. the linky-link is back up for the Warm Fuzzies and you should definitely sign up. I'd love to hear more about your journey to writing :)