The Perpetual Rewriting Zone

From time to time I run into someone who just can’t seem to make it to the tail end of their stories. I understand, of course. I’m sure most of us have unfinished novels on our shelves. Unfinished because we lost interest. Unfinished because the plot unraveled and we didn’t know to fix it. Unfinished because we simply stopped caring.

But there are those out there who have unfinished novels simply because they can’t put the stories down. They can’t stop editing, tweaking, rewriting, starting over. They just can’t get their hands off of it. But here are some steps I’ve collected over the years to help you get your story OUT of your hands and into the world (or on a shelf somewhere).

1* Get a buddy. An accountability partner. Someone who will remind you of #2…

2* Set a freaking deadline. New shiny book must be done by Thanksgiving. DONE. It’s all well and dandy to take your time, but if you’re going to be a professional writer, you will have deadlines one day, even if you self-publish. It’s nice to not make your fans wait three years between projects. Unless you’re George RR Martin or JK Rowling, and quite frankly, they didn’t start off that way.

3* Write Now. Edit Later. Easier said than done, I know, coming from someone who edits as they write. Irregardless, always write more than you edit.

4* STOP making excuses.

“So and So is better than me!” Maybe. And you know what else? They have something finished and you don’t. You’re never going to catch them if you keep writing and rewriting the same. damn. story. Progress means knowing when to let go.

“I have to get this right.” Set it aside and come back to it later when your brain isn’t mush. The story isn’t going anywhere. You can ALWAYS come back to it later. Remember that. But you ARE doing your story a HUGE disservice by beating it into a pulp with your fingers.

“I read that So and So starts every session by editing the last thing they wrote.” Yeah, and then they MOVE ON. They don’t stay on chapter one until it’s perfect. You’re going to read your chapter one so many times it will make your head spin. You have PLENTY of time to fix things. Plenty.

“I just read this amazing book on writing and realize that I’ve been doing everything wrong and now I need to start over for the fourth time.” REALLY? There needs to be a limit on how many times you will rewrite something, or you will rewrite and rewrite until you die. If you’re rewriting your story from scratch for the fifth time, something is wrong. Stop it. There are other ideas in the world. This is not the only story you have in you. Please…stop.

“I’m scared! What if the story still sucks after all this work? What if I get rejected? What if I don’t have another story?” It happens. It happens. And you DO. You’re going to write crap sometimes. Learn from it. Rejection makes you stronger. Let it. And if you’re a writer, there will ALWAYS be another story. But it can’t get to you if you’re holding on too tight to something else.

insert lame ass excuse here Get over it. There is nothing wrong with getting feedback and doing a seventh edit. There is nothing wrong with seeing a major problem and doing a rewrite to fix it. But at some point, you have to draw a line. At some point you have to call it finished and send it out or put it on the shelf.

5* If you don’t want to know how your story is going to end – start a new story that has an ending you want to get to. Seriously. It’s okay to abandon a project. It’s part of being a writer. Learn to deal. You don’t want to do this every time, of course, but it’s okay to walk away sometimes. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes the story you’ve been working on isn’t any good. And you know it. And you keep trying to fix it anyway. Stop it. Bad writer.

There’s a saying: either crap or get off the pot. Either FINISH your freaking story, or work on something else. Find a story you want to finish so bad you’ll start kicking stones out of your way. Whip up a plot you can handle. Dream up an idea that doesn’t need so much babysitting. You are not being resilient. You are being STUBBORN. It is not commendable. It is sad. You are not becoming a better writer. You are crippling yourself. You are not fighting for you story. You are refusing to let it go. It is a disease. It is making you sick. Walk away. Learn from it. Kick butt. ^_^

10 Responses to The Perpetual Rewriting Zone

  1. Yes! *Throws hands up in the air, fist pump* And we all need this lecture, too. I ran into this when I was working on the endless drafts of the Keegans because, like, well, I loved my characters, but the plot never really came together and I only queried it so I could say that I had the experience of querying. But then, Pearl came out of it, so it wasn’t a total waste–and this novel, even though I’m in the middle drags where I’m wondering why I wanted to write this story in the first place–I can’t wait to get to the end! (Seriously–it’s an awesome ending.)

    Basically, whenever my real life friends start making cracks about “Is your novel ever going to be finished?” and “This is your life’s work,” I know I’ve gotten into the Perpetual Rewriting of One Thing Zone.

    • *fist bump* 😀

      Wanting to get to the end has propelled me forward lots of times. That’s what got me to the end of last year’s NaNo project. Great ending! 🙂

      Perpetual Rewriting of One Thing Zone! Ha, ha! LOVE. I was like that with my high fantasy. I love my characters so much, I just wouldn’t stop messing with it. I played around with that thing for over a year. So yeah, we all definitely need to hear it! And double yeah, it’s definitely never a waste. ^_^

      (so excited for Pearl!)

  2. First drafts are always trash – so there’s no reason not to get them done. It’s in the edits afterwards that the shine comes. But even these must come to an end, for better or worse 😉

  3. Getting to the end isn’t a problem for me, but knowing when to stop tweaking – that’s a hard one. At what point do you say ‘yep, this is ready to start querying’? You have to trust your gut, I guess. Recently, agent Carly Watters talked about knowing when you’re ‘done’. Some good tips.

    • I figure I’m done when I start to stare at isolated sentences for 10 minutes at a time becoming convinced that those few stray sentences alone are ruining my entire story.

Hi! ^_^