Authors have various methods they use when writing stories. Some writers put down the first thing that comes to their mind while others rewrite many times. I also compose classical music. The same thing applies to composers. Some compose the first thing that comes to their mind and write it down. Others rewrite their music until it is exactly the way they want it. That could be why many composers don’t have a large body of work while others like Bach and Telemann composed over 1,000 pieces of music. I’m in the middle. I have composed over 300 pieces of music. Not all of it is good. I admit that. If 20% of the music I have composed is ever recorded, that will still be more than what many composers ever composed.
As for writing books, I have had four of my books published. They aren’t the greatest novels ever conceived in the mind of a science fiction writer. But they were considered fine enough to be published. That is more than what many writers can claim.
There are some rare writers that have written over 100 books that were published. It would be nice to sit at the computer and have the images and dialog flow from the mind to the screen. Sometimes I have been able to do that. It’s sort of the way Mozart composed music. It is said that he never had to correct any of his manuscripts. He committed his musical thoughts to paper effortlessly. I’ve had to make changes every now and then. Sometimes I have written pages of music just to scrap them when I changed my approach to a composition.
Writers experience the same thing from time to time. They might think a story is headed in one direction and then it hits a wall. They start over and take their story in another direction. That has happened to me. My latest book would have been very different if I had written it two years ago as opposed to last year. There were characters I was going to write about and story lines that were very different. But I believe the book is better than it would have been had I written it in 2018 instead of 2019.
In my case, there have been rewrites but not of my choosing. On my computer I have at times written stories that were perfectly all right. But a glitch of some kind either erased my words or caused me to be frustrated and I had to rewrite the story. Often it was the best thing that happened to my work. The rewrite gave me time to reconsider the story and take it in another direction that happened to be better.
I had a writing teacher in college that said he would never think of submitting a story to a magazine for publication unless he had rewritten it at least three times. I have heard of some writers spending years polishing their books with numerous rewrites. It usually takes me less than four months to write a book and I have a job that takes me away from home much of the day. I rarely rewrite. I let the ideas flow from my mind to the screen or to the paper when I am using my typewriter. I report what is happening in my imagination and let my characters or the flow of the action determine what I write. Sometimes I discover things that shock me because I consider writing like life. You often don’t know what is going to happen until it happens.
To me, rewrites are like do-overs in life. Writers have that luxury that most people don’t have. I’ll give you an example:
Jim thought he was driving at a reasonable speed when someone kept honking at him to pull over. With cars and trucks beside him in the passing lane, the only lane to pull over onto was the shoulder. But he wasn’t about to do that. There was no telling what debris was ready to puncture a tire out there.
The irate driver behind Jim decided to ride his bumper in an effort to force him off the road. He kept beeping and mouthing curse words until Jim finally relented and pulled off onto the shoulder.
The angry driver gave Jim the finger as he drove by him. This was uncalled for and upset the stopped driver. Jim took off after him and decided to honk his horn too when he was on the guy’s tail. That was when the angry driver did something unexpected. He slammed on his brakes and Jim smashed into his bumper. This time, both men pulled over onto the shoulder.
Jim wasn’t sure if the man in front of him wanted to yell profanities at him or maybe shoot him if he had a firearm in his car. All he could do was sit nervously behind the wheel hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
The driver opened his door and stormed toward Jim yelling profanities, as he expected, and waved his arms to emphasize his anger. Jim rolled down his window
“You moron. Who taught you how to drive; a blind retard?”
“Hey, you’re the one who was honking his horn like a maniac. What’s up with you?” Jim asked.
“Why didn’t you just stay off the road and let people who were serious about driving drive?”
“I have to be somewhere and now I need to wait until the police come to deal with this mess you caused.”
“Hey, you’re the one who slammed into my rear end. You’re going to pay for what you did.”
“I have insurance–”
“You know what I mean.”
The man grabbed Jim by the throat and tried to pull him through the window. Jim slapped his hands and impulsively floored the accelerator as he steered his car back onto the road. Since he wasn’t watching, a semi slammed into his vehicle and turned it into a crumpled pile of steel that burst into flames as it tumbled into a ditch.
Poor Jim. I bet his life could have used a do-over. Here is how it is in a rewrite:
The driver behind Jim kept honking his horn and angrily mouthed profanities at him. He tailgated him and tried to force him off the road. Jim had no idea why the driver was the man was so upset. He was driving at a good clip and the passing lane was congested.
Finally, Jim pulled off onto the shoulder and let the driver go by. He gave him the finger, as expected, and yelled at him. Jim smiled, waited several seconds, and pulled back onto the road. A few miles down the road, Jim spied the car that had been behind him with a patrol car behind him and a state trooper approaching the irate driver who probably wasn’t as irate now.
Jim smiled as he passed by the scene and went on his way relieved that he hadn’t let the impatient driver cause him to do something stupid.
Good for Jim. I would have acted like he did in the rewrite. That is the good thing about being a writer. You are God. You hold the destiny of lives in your hands. That could be one reason why writers love to rewrite. If things don’t work out the way they want them to, a rewrite can “make things right.”
Rewrites can help writers craft a story to make it more interesting and work out the kinks that might cause readers to lose interest in the story. If it works for a writer, the writer should continue to rewrite.
I’ve heard about many composers throwing away hundreds of pages of musical compositions because they were either not up to the standards of the composers or they lost interest in the works. I’ve composed lots of music that I either lost interest in or left unfinished. The same goes for writers. There is no telling how many good books are left in drawers or in computer files that will never be read. If a writer takes the time to write something but never lets anyone read it, was it worth writing? If a person lives all his life and no one misses him after they die, was his life worth living?
Rewrite if you must or go with what pops in your head. If you think what you have written is worth reading, have it published. Give your stories a chance to live. That is the great thing about computers and the internet. Writers can let readers sample their work and sometimes the readers can give them feedback. The internet allows writers to practice their craft and perfect their skills. Writers might not do too many rewrites. But it doesn’t matter that much. As I tell a lot of people, they used to commit insane people to assylums. Today they’re on the internet. So there is no way to know if someone who reads your stories critiques them because they want to help you or if they complain about your stories because they are out of their minds. And just because readers like your stories on the internet doesn’t mean literary readers will want to pay to read your stories.
Do your best work and let the world get the chance to read your stories or essays. If you don’t release your work and let the world read it, will it have been worth writing it in the first place? Go ahead and rewrite if you must if you believe it will make your work the best it can be. Let it live. It’s too late when you’re lying in your grave to wish you had published your book.