In Defense Of Doing It Right The First Time

With NaNuuNaNuuWhooHoo or whatever it’s called right around the corner, there’s the usual rash of posts on the glory of rewrites.  The same of chestnuts are trotted out “There is no writing, only rewriting!” and “Writing is never finished, only abandoned!”

I read one last night that scolded authors who wrote too well on their first draft, declaring that a competent first draft might fool writers into believing that the work doesn’t need to be rewritten again and again to transform it from “competent” into “quality”.

I don’t want to tell anyone out there that they way that she or he writes is wrong.  It would be nice if they would extend the same courtesy to me.

I don’t do rewrites.  I do edit, and I have other people edit, looking for mechanical errors. (Clearly I should have been more vigilant in that process in my last book, but I can go back and update the file.)

However, when I write a story I sit down, I start at the beginning, I go to the end, and then I’m done.  I don’t keep writing the same story over and over again–I don’t see any point to that.

Clearly some writers do.  I can’t fault them for it, it is the process that works for them.  It doesn’t for me.  If what I write the first time isn’t any good, then why would sitting down and doing it again make it any better?

Maybe it’s because I spent thirty-something years writing before I tried to publish any fiction has something to do with my outlook.  (I have published poetry before, and yes, all of my poetry is “first draft”, too.)

I will add in one exception–if I do research and find that something I have already written violates facts that I discover later, I will go back and rewrite that section to bring it into accord with the facts.  I did that with my first chapter of my current work.  Occasionally I run across details that need to be changed for the sake of consistency.

Other than that, what I write is what you see.  I am quite certain that the words that I am writing now are the same words that will appear on the page when The Worms Of Heaven is released.

I can see how this could strike some people as arrogant, but it doesn’t feel arrogant to me.  It feels honest. I think I have a pretty good idea of my skill level, and I can’t see the utility of writing something poorly the first time in order to write it well later on.  Measure twice, cut once, you know?  If something’s not as good as I can make it, why waste time typing it at all?

So I tend to write slowly, by most author’s standards.  I work on a scene in my head until I’m sure that it’s the way I want it, then I sit down and type it out.  On the other hand, once I’m finished, I’m finished. 

Maybe I’m missing something, but when I read a writer talking about making radical changes in the structure of a novel during the third or fourth rewrite I have to ask myself, “Wouldn’t it have saved time to do it that way from the beginning?”

It’s a different way of working, I realize.  I don’t understand it, it seems needlessly labor-intensive to me, but I willing to accept that for some people it works.  I would humbly request that they realize the same thing about how I work.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
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28 Responses to In Defense Of Doing It Right The First Time

  1. Oloriel says:

    “However, when I write a story I sit down, I start at the beginning, I go to the end, and then I’m done. I don’t keep writing the same story over and over again–I don’t see any point to that.” – ditto! There is so many more stuff I could copy that sould just about how I would say them.
    And that last line is really something we need. Not all of us work and write the same way and it is a bit tyring to constantly see this different from majority way being completely denied and constantly criticised.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      In retrospect, I overreacted a bit in this post. I think that most authors who talk about their own process aren’t condemning other authors. I was just in a lot of pain this morning, and that makes me grumpy.

  2. NaNuuNaNuuWhooHoo make me laugh this morning.
    I am someone who edits myself as I go along, partly because of the annoying squiggly lines in MsWord. I don’t have a problem having writer and editor hat on at the same time. I know some people do. There are times when I right fast and furious to get an idea out and see how it looks, but probably 80% of the time it is a slower more methodical pace.

    I also have always beleived before I let anyone else have a look, it should be the best it can be. Then I can let someone edit the small things I missed. I don’t believe in making a mess on the page and letting someone else clean it up.

    I like what you said that no other person should tell you that you have to write a certain way.

  3. I’m with Peter, I edit as I go. I don’t re-write, although I do check it over and make the rare change. When I’m done, I’m done.

  4. L. Marie says:

    Every writer’s process is different. I’m glad you know what yours is and follow your instincts. It’s sad that writers often criticize other writers for having a process that’s different from theirs.
    I happen to be a rewriter. I write in layers. Like a sculptor I start with an armature–the discovery draft. I don’t edit as I go. Once that’s done, I can relax more and go deeper with voice and character. But I would never tell anyone, “This is what you should do too.” That would be like a plotter telling a pantser, “You should always outline instead of flying by the seat of your pants.”

  5. I edit, but I probably do a little rewriting too. Honestly, I never knew the difference. There are times I need to rework a scene because it doesn’t read back to me as well. Or it holds something that I forgot about as the story progressed. Probably stems from the way I write, which is chugging along and only looking back if I think I made a continuity mistake.

  6. I’m too early into my novel writing efforts to say if I will go back and edit heavily, but I generally edit as I go as well. That said, there have been a few times with short stories where my alpha readers were all heavily suggesting changes and I re-wrote some things. I expect that could happen with a novel as well.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I can think of one scene that I rewrote in response to beta reader comments–it was where James and Godiva meet with the Manchester nest. In my first version there was only one nestling and the meeting took place behind the building. MzSusanB suggested expanding it and setting it in the store, and I think she was right. So I can’t really say that I never revise.

  7. sknicholls says:

    I am a linear writer, so I write straight from beginning to end. I haven’t been in the habit of doing outlines or rewrites. I did do what I call a revision with edits of my first chapter because I had condensed three chapters to one and it needed the revision to glue it back together. Changing genres, (which sounds weird to me because I have only published one historical “faction” book…so I have never regarded myself as genre writer.), to crime fiction, I wrote the first six chapters and totally didn’t like the person or the POV. I scrapped it, but I didn’t rewrite it. I started over. I have heard of authors having three, what they referred to as “poorly written” nanowrimo novels. I have also heard of writers rewriting 6-12 chapters of one work over and over again, and still, years later, don’t have a working novel. I can’t do that. I want it to gel in my mind first…then put it on paper/print passionately one time. I can’t commit to poorly written simply to make a word count for the day, but I have committed to developing an outline, which I think this genre demands.

  8. Lady Kins says:

    I’m with you. I write it the first time then I edit. I don’t make any radical changes unless I have to fix a massive mistake. The most I’ve ever done is cut out a bunch of material because I over wrote something or fill in details because I didn’t write in enough. Right now with one story I’m going to have to ditch the first chapter completely because nothing happens except we dance around in her head (can we say boring and I hate it). I like to think of it as being economical as the time I have to dedicate toward writing is limited as it is, why waste my time rewriting over and over again when I don’t have to with some forward thinking?

    There is.. one exception to this and this story is hard to explain. It’s the one I started when I was 14 and I keep expanding on it, making it bigger. I still have all the information for it, about three different starts and no finishes. I doubt I’ll ever finish it, but with this story it is like my blue blanket when I’m upset if that makes any sense…

    • MishaBurnett says:

      There are definitely times when I find myself writing filler rather than a story, and up having to cut needless words, sometimes entire needless scenes. However, I tend to do that as I go, and not go back and do it later.

  9. Chris Edgar says:

    It does seem like an important question to ask — how much of rewriting comes from a desire to genuinely improve the work, and how much comes from rigidly adhering to the belief that rewriting must always be done? I know I struggle with this in the context of writing songs — I sometimes catch myself assuming that “this song can’t be good enough because I haven’t spent enough time on it.”

    • MishaBurnett says:

      And that is an excellent point. With my poetry I have learned that rewriting tends to be like changing answers on a test–most of the time my initial “guess” is the right one, and changing it makes it worse, not better.

  10. David Emeron says:

    I may not have given this impression upon our first meeting, however it is true that I am a rather shy person, all things considered. I confess that, for that reason, among others, I have not been following along. With that in mind, I should say that my surmise is that this post may be in response to comments on your second book.

    First, let me here state that I found it most brilliant. Thoroughly enjoyable. I have read it once and am now reading it a second time aloud for my dear Mrs. Emeron’s enjoyment. I have given your name to several of my colleagues, directing them quite enthusiastically to buy your books. One gentleman in particular I think will greatly enjoy it; and I will, in particular, hound him when next I see him if I find he has not yet purchased it. I have helped to bring him into the 21st century this last year, so he is already well-versed in these matters and should easily be able to manage the two or three clicks necessary to do so.

    As far as go the minor editing mistakes, I believe it is very true that one cannot find them all on ones own. This is a function of the way our brains work. As an author, I know what is–or rather, what should be–there; this being the case, I may not be able to “see” a missing or repeated word. But truly, there are editors who specialise in this kind of work and I hear they are quite affordable.

    Although this is not my profession–no, quite the contrary; I deal daily in abstract symbols and concepts–I might have helped with these minor points, had I been one of your so named “beta-readers.” But alas I am far too shy, and therefore reticent to ask for such an honoured position.

    Being, as I am, possessed of a neuro-atypical brain I do tend to see small errors others will not see; but on the other hand, I will not see such errors as are seen easily by others as well, so in any case, I would never be able to compete in the editing market as a paid editor even if it were my desire to do so.

    I am no stranger to pain at my age, so I do realise how ones mood and condition may colour ones perspective and, as a result, ones comments. Even given that, certainly you are correct: Everyone writes differently; I myself use a variety of techniques whether writing sonnets or fiction. Sometimes, I write in layers and sometimes I outline. Quite often, I do none of these things, preferring to write from start to finish without pausing at all for reflection.

    Since you are now a published author, I would not presume to give you advice–nor would I if the case were otherwise, as I have noticed writers invariably give other writers poor advice and would not want to contribute negatively in this way. I will here state just this one thing: Keep writing. Do not stop. No matter what anyone may suggest. Keep writing.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Thank you. I am currently working on my third, and I hope it will please you as much as my first two.

      • David Emeron says:

        I have no doubt that it will. Bated breath, here! Good call, my good man, on the abandoned Good Earth scene! I can’t imagine how it could have been any other way! I love how you tie up some loose ends throughout the book and introduce us to a whole new skein of them!

  11. Pingback: In Defense Of Doing It Right The First Time | mishaburnett | David Emeron: Sonnets

  12. kanzensakura says:

    I am not a professional or published writer. I am simply a simple woman from the South who uses y’all a lot because that is how I grew up. I also grew up with being told over and over – those who can do, those who can’t become critics (or sit on panels or Monday morning quarterbacks, etc.). I come to this site today because of the posting on David Emeron’s blog. If he and the Mrs. were delighted, it behooved me to check you out. I am glad I did. I am now following and will visit often and look forward to your postings.

    I edit my writing. I check for grammar, spelling, phrasing. I change a bit here and there. Mainly though, I write it from my gut as I am feeling it. And because I am a contrary little critter and because I am all wabi sabi at times, I will purposely leave in a mistake. it is how I am wired.

    People giving useful insight is good. However, I find people who nitpick on a point of grammar to be tiresome and usually are folks I’d never invite to sit on my front porch and rock and sip sweet tea with me.

    But I do agree with David. Keep writing. Please.

  13. Greetings Lord Burnett!

    Just wanted to let you know that I finished Cannibal Hearts and found it quite excellent 🙂 I especially enjoyed the fate of a certain frog-obsessed someone. Will post my review just as soon as I get a free second!

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