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Author Topic: Help with rewrites
Member # 1646

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I just realized that I have a problem. I started looking at some of the short stories I have written over the past year. I have written qutie a few. They range in genre form fantasy to science fiction and while most are character-oriented, they range in plot from alien invasions to gene manipulation.

I currently have 13 stories making their rounds with markets. I have sold 3 more. Of these 16 stories, 7 were ever ready by anyone aside from my husband and myself (1 of the sold stories, for those keeping track). Moreover, of those 7 stories, 4 waited in the valley of random computer data for at least half a year after I showed them to anyone. The three that didn't only went out faster because they were written for a contest with a deadline.

I've been looking through the stories I've got in progress. In the past six months, I've had half a dozen more stories critiqued and none of them have gone anywhere. They're all still sitting on my hard drive, unedited, unchanged, simply waiting for me to come up with *something* that will make them acceptable.

I keep thinking about why this is. It's not that I don't know what comments to accept and what comments to ignore. It's not that in some cases I don't even know exactly what changes I should make to get on with my life and the life of my story.

It's just that after the stories come back from critique, they don't feel like mine anymore.

I don't know if that makes any sense, but I'm going to use as an example the story that just came back from my wonderful critique group a couple of weeks ago. They made many useful comments and many correct comments, as much as any comment can be correct. But then, somehow, they made comments that showed me that they were seeing things in the story that I don't remember putting there. Making assumptions I never intended.

I started half adapting their ideas and half shunning them.

And now I don't know what to do. Once again, there is a story out there in dataland that is likely to stay there for months, maybe forever. I don't even really want to write it again. I have trouble getting excited about rewrites, which is almost certainly another problem. But no, it's more than that. I started writing a dream, ended up with a story, and ended up clinging stubbornly to the dream.

This is beginning to feel like a confession.

So fine, I am guilty of reading comments and then just staring them in the face without taking any action. Can anyone help? I want my writing to improve. I'm sick of hearing "Nice writing but...." from editors. My stories suck and the only way to improve them is to rewrite them after having others show me their weaknesses. Why can I know this logically and still set the stories aside?

Posts: 3567 | Registered: May 2003  | Report this post to a Moderator
Member # 2192

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christine, I have some of the same issues. My stories sit in the "needs work" folder for months or years, even.

I don't have any answers - just wanted to say hey, you're not alone.

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Member # 2109

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I have encountered the same thing, most especially on those pieces that are most 'me' (whatever that is).

You aren't alone.

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Member # 2056

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I don't have a solution for you per se, but I'll tell you what works for me.

I read my crits, then forget about them. A few months later, when I'm ready to tackle a rewrite, when "I" feel it needs to be fixed, I'll open up my story. I'll re-read it fully. If I remember a crit comment as I read (and I will remember the ones that rang true), I'll make a note of it, mentally, and keep going. I've got fresh eyes on it now... and my writing outlook has improved a bit; I see things differently. I've learned more stuff, basically.

Then, I think: Yes, fix this. Fix that. Oh, and Christine didn't like this bit... why is that? Hmm... Oh, I remember, she said "this". Noted. Will rewrite that sentence. Hmmm... MaryRobinette said this line threw her... why? Oh, yeah, I know. And this line here looks awkward now. What was I thinking when I wrote that? Fix that. Hey... what's this doing here? It's not furthering the plot at all. Cut that. Cut this.

I look at it like it's a clay sculpture. Take away a bit here. Use the knife there. Add some clay in this spot. Take off a huge worthless chunk there. I look at it like a challenge, actually. That story isn't going to get the better of me. I'm the bloody author, I'm going to make it the best darn thing ever. You'll see, Mr. Story. You'll see. Mwahahahaha!

Take no prisoners. But, as I said, it takes me 2-6 months to tackle a rewrite. I need that much time to look at it objectively. Otherwise, I'm too close to it. And I do rewrites mostly when I'm frustrated with my WIP. Best time, actually. Writer's block. Ha! I'll rewrite then. Take that, Mr. Story. Have at you!

Get personal. Beat it. Make it submit. It's the only way to approach a rewrite, really. For me, anyway.

I hope you sort it out soon. Good luck.

EDIT: By the way, since you're deadline oriented -- possibly -- give yourself a deadline to rewrite and mail that story out. Maybe that'll help. Setup a daily schedule, if necessary. 4 hrs WIP. 1/2 hour rewrite.

Whatever you can do to create a routine that works for you would be desirable, I feel.

[This message has been edited by HSO (edited March 30, 2005).]

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Member # 2267

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You would know, but . . . do they really suck? Or are they just going up against that 98% rejection rate magazines have?

Sometimes I get a story critiqued and I let it sit . . . because I believe the critique but don't know what to do about it.

Still, if anyone knows a way to make stories shine, rather than merely have "good writing," I'd love to know it.

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Lullaby Lady
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I'm timidly venturing out after months of being gone. (I can hear the groans, "Oh, no! She's back!" )

It does my heart good to "hear" you say these things, Christine. I consider you an enlightened person with lots of writing talent, and since I left this board after my own over-reaction to some critiques I enlisted, it helps me immensely to see that you have struggled, as well.

And, HSO, I've never thanked anyone for their critiques, so if any of you have helped me in the long-ago past, thank you.

I have decided that I am too inexperienced to give any kind of worth-while critiques. I am also too sensitive to the ones I recieve. So I have finally started writing again, and will continue to scribble on, while lurking here, learning what I can. Maybe someday, I will reach the point where critiques aren't so painful for me. (I'm a whimp-- and I know it.) For now, even attempting the writing on my own is facing something I've feared for years.

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Member # 1374

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I have no real suggestions to share, only my own experience. The experience of someone who likes doing rewrites for the most part, so it may not be that helpful. For me it is the rough draft and proofreading that tend to be painful.

I always read crits when they come in, but it usually takes a bit before I really want to implement them into the rewrite. I need to gel with them a bit. Plus, I often see additional insights in reading crits more "cold," but that fits with needing more time to let the story get cold before rewriting as well. Rewriting seems to work best after I've sort of half-forgotten the story details, and I usually send things out for critique when they are pretty fresh, and sometimes slightly rough about the edges. This is usually 2 weeks to a month.

I can't relate to not feeling like the story isn't mine after critique though. If you wrote it, it's yours, no matter what other people read into it. The readers can't help but see the story reflected through their own opinions and experiences. It happens every time people read someone else's stuff -- it's just in a critique you get it put down in black and white and shared with you.

Maybe set a deadline for the rewrite, like HSO suggested, would help? So you can't put it off, and those stories get kicked off the hard drive and out into the mail where they belong.

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Member # 2352

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Hi Christine,

The only book I have that's specifically about rewriting is "Revising Fiction: a Handbook for Writers" by David Madden. The book itself is good, and it does get me thinking more objectively, but I think it's like a superstitious ritual for me. Any time I feel stalled on a WIP, and the thought of confronting a rewrite on everything else seems dreary, I always pick it up and start reading. I've never made it through an entire reread before something sparks. I can't really say what the process is--sometimes the idea I get isn't at all related to the chapters I just read--but I think it rekindles interest in the revision process itself. Sometimes picking up a new book on the craft of writing does the same...unfortunately I'm usually flowing well on something else when that occurs, though.

In deference to HSO's post, I also have to say that I'll always let a piece sit for a while before I go back to it.

In deference to wbriggs', if YOU feel they really suck (as opposed to having received opinions that they suck, or that you've interpreted that way) put them in a special THIS SUCKS folder and be done with them. If, however, you find something about them that you still love...they don't suck; you just haven't found the right angle on them yet.

As for your comment that the stories don't feel like yours anymore, I have to remind you of a comment you made (or were passing on, I don't remember) in a post: the story in your readers' heads is NEVER the same story as the one in your head. The objective, purely technical comments are worth dealing with right away, but the subjective ones aren't. I think HSO's suggestion for letting those sit too, until they've had time to mingle with the story in your head, is very sound.

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Member # 1680

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I'll start by saying that I don't have this problem. I always dive into revisions as soon as the crits start coming back. I get very excited to see if the audience is "gettting" it. I tackle all the things that resonate with me first, whether that's grammar or structure. The things that make me think, "What is this person, crazy?" I let sit unless someone else flags it too.

The one thing that I can offer, perhaps it will help, is that I try to follow the Heinlein advice of write, revise, submit, repeat. And it's also advice that you've given to others, Christine, which is that I don't try to make the story perfect. I revise it--sometimes four or five drafts if my early one was very flawed--but as soon as people stop having problems with my structure I clean up the wordsmithing and mail it. Granted, I've only got two publications at this point, but I've also submitted a new story each month and I don't have any completed stories sitting on my computer. I have several files that consist of only beginnings. But once I reach END, I clean it and mail it.

I also just had a realization while reading Stephen King's memoir. He talks about the Ideal Reader. He writes all of his stories with his wife in mind. Here's the thing. When I've written stories that I felt were tightest, it's been with a deadline for a specific market. It's been for a market I've read. I think that those are the times that I've revised with an Ideal Reader in mind.

As onepktjoe said, you've reminded us that the story in your reader's head isn't the one in your head. So when you revise, instead of trying to please yourself, instead of trying to please a whole critique group, try picking one person and making it the perfect story for them. Might help, might do nothing for you.

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Member # 2339

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Hey Christine.
Someone, a very popular writer, by the way, once told me there was no such thing as "wasted writing." Even if you don't finish a piece, you practiced and honed your craft by doing it.
My brother is a concert pianist. You might think that would be lovely, having someone pounding out Brahms every day in the next room. But do you know how a concert pianist practices? He NEVER plays the piece the way you hear it in the concert hall, all nice and perfect, all the way through. No, he takes one measure or one page or one section and plays it over and over and over again. Believe me, it is NOT pleasant to listen to!
But then something happens when he sets foot on the stage. All that practice comes together, and wahlah. He puts on a performance that can make you cry it's so good.
Here' my humble advice. Don't worry about finishing every story you start. Consider most of what you do practice, practice, practice. Then, every once in a while, you'll write a story that's so good it will make you cry. That's the piece you hammer out and finish off; a culmination of your skill from all those other stories you spent hours writing. That's the story that makes it all worthwhile. And the more you write, the more concert-quality pieces you'll turn out.
So, only rewrite the ones you think have real potential. The rest are only practice. There's no such thing as wasted writing.

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Member # 1646

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I knew this was the kind of topic that was going to get my own advice thrown back at me.

Mary, I do think you have a very good point though. Writing ro an audience. I used to do this. Then I stopped. One of my problems with reading samples from the markets out there is that I honestly can't stand most of the stuff that ends up in the most populra magazines like F&SF and Asimov's. But publication is my goal and so I should read it anyway. And who knows? maybe I'll find another publication that I do have more respect for.

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Member # 1438

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You've not done the rewrites yet, but just the fact that your stories have been critiqued is causing you to feel that they're not your own, and this feeling is because the critiquers saw things in the story that you don't remember putting there, and made assumptions you never intended.

I'm guessing there's a greater fear of actually doing the rewrites, and possibly incorporating those foreign assumptions into your work. I can understand that.

But maybe you're at odds with quality vs quantity. You mentioned in one of the other threads that you believed in writing lots of stories and getting them to market quickly, and seeing what sticks to the wall. Could be that, because critiquing and rewriting short-circuits that process, you’re digging your heels in against it.

One of my problems with reading samples from the markets out there is that I honestly can't stand most of the stuff that ends up in the most populra magazines like F&SF and Asimov's.

Boy, do I understand that. And that can really lead to writer doubt and insecurity. How can you possibly get published if what publishers want to buy is what you don't even want to read, much less write? I wish I had an answer for that. But, once in a while, there is a story out there that isn't bad, that actually interests you, and there's a glimmer of hope. And sometimes it's even somewhat well-written.

So, take your own good advice. Deal with the objective critique comments first. It's relatively painless to make mechanical corrections. Then take a deep breath, and deal with the subjective ones that don't violate your own story assumptions.

[This message has been edited by Kolona (edited March 31, 2005).]

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Member # 2192

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oh, Christine, I don't like 95% of what gets into F&SF or Asimov's either! They're not even on my list of places I'd like to be published - I just don't like their stuff. you and I seem to have a lot of opinions in common!
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Member # 2088

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I've discovered I'm like HSO. I receive comments, shut it all up with the story and wait a month or two or three (or more). When I start on the re-write, I usually start reading the story and refer to critiques only as I see the problems come up ("That's right. Christine has a solution to that. And Survivor was right about this. What did he say again?")

On F&SF and Asimov's: I'm afraid I have to join those who don't like 95% of what they read there. I'm thinking of subscribing to F&SF so I can read Matt Hughes stuff (I like his Noösphere), but the rest just doesn't interest me.

[This message has been edited by Keeley (edited March 31, 2005).]

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Member # 213

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I think that the problem is that you're letting the critting process be a one-way street. Now, truth be told, I don't remember you taking critiques passively. But there's a difference between engaging in a dialogue over a story and an argument over that story.

We all remember the old saw about never winning an argument. Well, it might or might not be true. The problem for a writer is that taking sides makes it so that there is the author's story and the critiquer's ideas, and every time a critiquer's idea is clearly right, accepting it makes the story belong to the author less.

Basically, you need to learn to take ownership of the ideas that you get from your critiquers. There are a couple of ways to do this, but the most helpful is to discuss the ideas that a critiquer shares with you, give your own input into that idea. Don't worry, you'll still be the one doing the actual writing, you'll still have full artistic control. But by talking about the ideas you find valuable, they will become more your own.

The fact is that you don't know which ideas to "accept" and how to incorporate them into your story. Thinking of a critiquer's ideas as being immutable atoms which you must simply accept or reject means that you haven't allowed them to suggest your own new ideas, the ones that will actually be in the story you write.

Ultimately, of course, the key is to get past the point where you actually care so much about it being your story. As an artist, you want to get to the point where your work has existence and meaning independent of yourself. When we say something "belongs to the ages", we're touching on this idea.

One of these days, I'm going to just put an entire post in italics and then leave it like that.

[This message has been edited by Survivor (edited March 31, 2005).]

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Member # 1214

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I've been thinking about what to say since you first posted this, Christine, and when I finally got ready, Survivor went and said most of it for me.

But I'll try to fill in some of the other odd thoughts. A short while ago, on another thread, you said:

1. I love to tell stories/write....

2. I have to be the best.

Could this be relevant? Do you feel like you can't be the best if you don't do it all yourself? And what happens if someone makes a good suggestion--something you'd like to have in your story--do you feel like you wish you'd never heard the suggestion, because NOW you can't put it in your story anymore, whereas if you'd thought of it yourself, then you could? And so you know the story isn't as good as it could be, but you can't make it better without using someone else's suggestion?

Note that the ENTIRE last paragraph is questions. I don't know you well enough to know if any of it is even close to the mark, so when I ask, I'm really asking, not making suggestions in disguise. But now--just in case you, or anyone else, would answer yes to these questions, I'll make a few comments.

Nobody ever does ANYTHING by himself. When someone makes a chance remark and it sparks a story idea in my head--well, I wouldn't have had that idea without that spark, would I? I wouldn't know about the MICE quotient if I hadn't read Characters & Viewpoint. I wouldn't know English as well as I do if my parents hadn't spoken intelligently and grammatically, and if I hadn't read thousands of books. I have to thank all my teachers (well many of them, anyway--and the rest I can probably use as characters sometime). If someone makes a comment on a story of mine, and I think, Wow, that totally changes the entire story--well, that makes it a different story. Maybe I'll write that story some day, but I probably won't use the idea in this one. But if they make a suggestion that helps with what I'm trying to do, then I use it. I'm grateful to them for pointing it out, but do you think I feel the slightest need to add their name to the byline? Bloody hell, no! Even if I use it verbatim (which is unlikely unless it's a really minor suggestion), the decision to put it in is still mine.

As I say, I don't know if any of that applies to you. What I really wanted to say was what Survivor said about taking ownership of other people's suggestions. All I'm pointing out here is that, in fact, you already take ownership of loads of things that originated outside of you. Maybe taking ownership of critique comments isn't really that much bigger a step.

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Member # 2352

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I was looking for a particular quote that I thought was applicable so I could attribute it properly(and I didn't want to mangle it in a horrible paraphrasing accident), but I couldn't find it. I did find this one, though:

--"Writers aren't exactly people . . . they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person."--F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm sure he wasn't speaking in this context, but I don't think he was excluding it either.

BTW, the quote I was trying to find was (more or less):

--"Bad writers borrow, good writers steal."--

If anyone knows the exact quote and who said it...

Also, how the hell do you use that quote function?

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Member # 213

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Apparently, T S Eliot said that.

But he probably stole it

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Member # 1214

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When you're posting, look to the left. The "UBB Code is ON" link will take you to a page explaining quotes and other stuff. The "Smilies Legend" shows the various codes.

For quotes, you type " [quote ]what you want quoted[/quote] " (except without the space between "quote" and "]'), to get

what you want quoted

[This message has been edited by rickfisher (edited April 02, 2005).]

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