Author Topic: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?  (Read 4684 times)  

Online Piano Jenny

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Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« on: January 19, 2017, 08:04:09 AM »
Last night I was listening to a podcast with Dean Wesley Smith with his wife Kristine Kathryn Rush, and he was saying how the idea "You must rewrite"  and the idea that rewriting make something better, is one of the worst writing myths. I was so struck by this, and by how adamantly he talked about it, that I read some of his blog posts on this topic.

From http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/killing-the-sacred-cows-of-publishing-rewriting/:


I cant tell you how many times I have seen a great story ruined by a number of things associated with this myth.

For example, take a great story, run it through a workshop, then try to rewrite it to group think. Yow, does it become dull, just as anything done by committee is dull.

Or worse yet, take a first chapter or two of a novel to a workshop and watch them ruin a good work in progress. Rule here is never let anyone see a work in progress. Ever. Run from workshops like that, and read-aloud workshops. All worthless, even for audience reaction. (More in a future chapter about the myth of writing workshops.)

I helped start and run a beginners workshop when I was first starting out. None of us had a clue, but we were all learning fast. I would write a story a week (all I could manage with three jobs at the time) and mail it, then turn it into my workshop for audience reaction.

Thats right, I mailed it before I gave it to my workshop.

And I sold a few stories that the workshop said failed completely, which taught me a lot, actually. If I had listened to them, I never would have made some of those early sales.

If you would like to see a first draft of one of my early stories, pick up Volume #1 of Writers of the Future. I was in the middle of moving from Portland to the Oregon Coast , actually packing the truck, when my then-wife, Denie, asked me if I had the story done for Writers of the Future that Algis Budrys had told me was starting up. I said no, the mailing deadline was the next day and I didnt have time.

Thankfully, Denie insisted I go finish it while she packed. I didnt tell her that I hadnt even started it yet and had no idea what to write. I put the typewriter on a partially dismantled desk, sat on the edge of the bed, and wrote the story from start to finish having no idea what I was writing or where the story was going. Three hours later I finished the story called One Last Dance and mailed it on a dinner break.

Thats right, it was a first draft on a typewriter. No spell-checker, no first reader, nothing. Algis Budrys and Jack Williamson loved it and put it into the first volume, and because of that story, I ended up meeting Kris a couple of years later after Denie and I had broken up. I also got lots of wonderful trips and money and a great workshop from that three hour draft.

All because I had the courage to write and mail first draft. I trusted my creative skills, I trusted my voice, and I was lucky enough to have someone who gave me support at that point in the writing.

Another point: Every year, editor Denise Little and I prove the same point again to early career writers. We force them to write a short story overnight to an anthology idea and deadline, and those quickly written stories are always better than the ones the same writers wrote before the workshop.


Wow. This is SO completely different from everything I've ever heard or believed that it makes my head spin.

Anyway, I'm wondering if I should dare to try it with the story I wrote for NaNoWriMo -- just fill in the scenes I didn't get to yet, make some very quick and obvious changes, and then send it to a copy editor.

Is that crazy?? Has anyone actually done this? Do you agree or disagree that rewriting is bad and only makes your stories worse?

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Online Lydniz

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2017, 08:13:05 AM »
There's no hard and fast rule. Some people need to rewrite, some don't. Personally I never rewrite, but that's just me.

ETA: actually, I should specify that I don't go back and rewrite because I do all my rewriting as I go along.

Offline Rosalind J

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2017, 08:13:11 AM »
I write my books along with three alpha readers who read chapter by chapter and give me feedback. I don't edit much at the end--a few days for a 100k book.

Others spit out that 100k in 6 days rather than my 6 weeks, and spend 6 weeks revising it.

Others write it in 3 weeks and are done.

My books sell very well and are the best I can make them. There are people doing the other things above who can say the same. IMHO there is no right advice on writing process. There are examples. The right one for you is the one that lets you write good books and sell lots of books.

I would check rank and reviews on anybody who's giving advice on how to write and sell books.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2017, 08:15:20 AM by Rosalind J »

Offline cadle-sparks

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2017, 08:16:39 AM »
Heinlein's, too, years ago. "Never rewrite except to editorial order."

tl;dr version: I'm closer to Dean's philosophy than I once was.

I revise a lot less than I used to. I was taught "writing is rewriting" and that one should beat the poor novel half to death, revising and tweaking until you hate the book so much you cannot bear to glance at it. So I spent years changing "walked slowly" to "sauntered" to "strolled" and back again.

Then I realized: readers don't give a crap. "Walked slowly" would have been fine with them.

Still, despite now writing for readers and not NY editors, I do revise at least once. It's probably fine as is, after all these years of practice and books written, and it's fine structurally because I outline, but I know it can be a smoother reading experience if I mess a bit with the prose. (I spend about seven days at it. Certainly not the "at least a year" taught in university writing programs.) With a current project, I'm doing a partial rewrite, adding a POV and adjusting other bits to accommodate it. I believe it will make it much more of a page-turner. So these days, usually I limit the revisions to one fast one...except when I don't, as right now. :) 

Offline Tulonsae

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2017, 08:17:14 AM »
The piece he described is a short story, not a novel. I think it's easier to do that with a shorter piece.

I also think that people who have written millions of words may not need to revise.

But have you read his "Writing Into the Dark" blog series? While he talks about not revising, what he describes is a form of editing as you write.

Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2017, 08:17:24 AM »
I'm basically doing that now. However, if I remember correctly, DWS has also said that he typically goes  back and cleans up the previous day's words before starting today's, and he goes back and makes changes to earlier chapters if he realizes he needs to change something there later. So it's not just 'start at word one, write sequentially to the end, publish'.

The novel I just finished was basically complete by the time I wrote the final word, but it had changed a lot along the way. As I mentioned in another thread, the original chapter one ended up as chapter six, for example.

The one thing I would say is that the closest I ever got to selling a short story to a pro market before I stopped submitting there was a 7500 word story I wrote in two days and mailed off a few minutes before the submission deadline. The ones I spent months or years revising never got anywhere.

Offline Beth_Hammond

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #6 on: January 19, 2017, 08:18:18 AM »
If I never revised, my work would be full of pronouns, adverbs, and tons of head nodding lol! I always add to my work in revision. I know writers this would work for though. I'm not one of them. I do think there are plenty of "rules" that are rubbish though.

I'm still figuring this out.
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Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #7 on: January 19, 2017, 08:19:58 AM »
Then I realized: readers don't give a crap. "Walked slowly" would have been fine with them.

Yeah, I'm currently reading a book by a best-selling author who's been around for decades, and any writing group I was a member of would have torn it apart.  But actual readers love him.

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #8 on: January 19, 2017, 08:21:15 AM »
The piece he described is a short story, not a novel. I think it's easier to do that with a shorter piece.

I also think that people who have written millions of words may not need to revise.

But have you read his "Writing Into the Dark" blog series? While he talks about not revising, what he describes is a form of editing as you write.

Yes, he calls it cycling - where you go back over your work and add/change things. The key component I believe he makes is state of mind. 

If you are making changes while in the creative mind set  that's NOT rewriting. 

However, if you go back over your work from the critical mindset than that IS rewriting and he believes doing so will hurt your writing.

I believe each writer should do what works for them.  And usually learning your writing process takes trial and error PLUS time.

Good Luck.

Offline Mark E. Cooper

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #9 on: January 19, 2017, 08:23:56 AM »
I'm basically doing that now. However, if I remember correctly, DWS has also said that he typically goes  back and cleans up the previous day's words before starting today's, and he goes back and makes changes to earlier chapters if he realizes he needs to change something there later. So it's not just 'start at word one, write sequentially to the end, publish'.

That's what I do. I even insert scenes or chapter earlier in the story if something important comes up that needs foreshadowing. Yay Scrivener.

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #10 on: January 19, 2017, 08:27:01 AM »
I only rewrite enough to make sure the story proceeds logically and gives the romance reader what she expects. Since I'm a panster, often my plots have jagged plot edges that must be edited. This is different from the revision passes I do to tighten up and improve language and add descriptive detail, again a function of being a panster.

But I agree with the basic concept. I've had authors, editors, betas, and contest judges violently object to plot elements that it turned out readers actually liked very much. I've seen strong openers eviscerated by objections. I'm fairly sure that my first novel, which got worked over a million times, no longer has the zing in the opening section it originally had. People will pick you apart if you let them.

Regardless, an author is wise to look over a story and ask if it delivers. If it doesn't, then rewrites help.

Offline dianapersaud

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #11 on: January 19, 2017, 08:27:10 AM »
It really depends on your definition of rewrite.

I find that when I'm editing, I add to what is already there. I clarify what is already there. I don't take out whole scenes and rewrite it to something completely different.

In other words, it's like adding frosting to a cake. I'm just cleaning it up and making it prettier. I'm not scrapping the cake and making cupcakes.

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Offline Mari Oliver

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #12 on: January 19, 2017, 08:27:39 AM »
It's actually not his advice, it's that of Robert Heinlein's (Heinlein's Rules). I do follow this advice because after years of rewriting [crappy] manuscripts, I finally had enough and decided that I didn't have anything else to lose. My stories are actually received better by my writing partners/readers. Vastly better. I have more confidence in my work now, which is huge for me. What I mean by not rewriting isn't:

-fixing typos
-fixing continuity errors
-fixing grammar issues
-fixing double or over used words
-smoothing out the prose to make it clearer, more rhythmic and contain more impact

Far as the skeleton of the story, the actual narrative, I leave that alone. Doing this has allowed me to write more books, not spend forever on one, and stop being so afraid of writing in general. Gotta get over that fear big time as an Indie or I will sink. So I had to do something about my time and craft aspect. This was it and so far it's helped me an immense amount. What it comes down to, however, is how you are best able to function effectively as a writer. Rewriting didn't help me learn anything new except that I was wasting time. Studying the craft, talking with other writers, reading diversely and applying the techniques I learned on new work is what's helped me learn the best. So, this is definitely an individual thing but I generally agree with the advice of not rewriting.

Offline Tulonsae

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #13 on: January 19, 2017, 08:32:23 AM »
Yes, he calls it cycling - where you go back over your work and add/change things. The key component I believe he makes is state of mind. 

If you are making changes while in the creative mind set  that's NOT rewriting. 

However, if you go back over your work from the critical mindset than that IS rewriting and he believes doing so will hurt your writing.

I believe each writer should do what works for them.  And usually learning your writing process takes trial and error PLUS time.

Good Luck.

Thanks. This is a distinction I either missed or forgot. It's good to remember.

Online Dan C. Rinnert

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #14 on: January 19, 2017, 08:53:47 AM »
Seems to me that it can be distilled down to: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Rewrite stuff that needs to be rewritten and don't rewrite stuff that doesn't need to be rewritten.  If the story works, leave it alone.  If something's not working--whether it's a paragraph, a chapter or even the whole novel--then tweak, revise or even rewrite so it does.

Sometimes I think authors get too wrapped up in advice from well-known authors.  So-and-so says "You must rewrite!" so writers think they must rewrite and they parrot the advice again and again.  Some other so-and-so says "You'll ruin it if you rewrite!" so writers think they mustn't rewrite and they parrot the advice again and again.  Ugh!

Just do whatever it takes to write the best story possible.
       
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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #15 on: January 19, 2017, 08:57:21 AM »
I've found it to be sound advice, but it took me about 10 years of following Dean and writing and learning for it to sink in. Writing and fixing things as you go is much more time-efficient than writing a draft and then going back and rewriting chunks of it. When you get to a certain point in your writing life/career/vocation/whatever, assuming you've practiced a lot and written a lot, you'll find that you're writing cleaner drafts and have less need of revision.

And in the indie world, the highly successful authors are pushing out new product on a regular basis, and the cleaner you can make your drafts, the faster you'll be able to get work up for sale and then get to the next work.

Dean also ties in confidence to this concept. The more confident a writer is in their work, and the more willing they are to not worry about perfection, the less rewriting you'll have to do.

Offline Edward M. Grant

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #16 on: January 19, 2017, 08:59:35 AM »
Seems to me that it can be distilled down to: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Also, that it's less likely to be broken than you think it is. In a number of cases, I got half-way through writing a novel, decided I needed to make a bunch of changes, then gave up on it for a few years before I went back to it. At which point I put back in most of the things I'd previously removed or changed.

Offline Nick Marsden

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #17 on: January 19, 2017, 09:08:31 AM »
It's actually not his advice, it's that of Robert Heinlein's (Heinlein's Rules). I do follow this advice because after years of rewriting [crappy] manuscripts, I finally had enough and decided that I didn't have anything else to lose. My stories are actually received better by my writing partners/readers. Vastly better. I have more confidence in my work now, which is huge for me. What I mean by not rewriting isn't:

-fixing typos
-fixing continuity errors
-fixing grammar issues
-fixing double or over used words
-smoothing out the prose to make it clearer, more rhythmic and contain more impact

This.
I think what Heinlein and Smith were referring to in the word "rewrite" was to allow the logical side of the brain, the one that must deal with edits, to interfere with the creative side, which is where "flow" comes from. When you write in a "flow" state, your ideas are pure and the story comes naturally. If you then go back and look at it and say something like: "I think this scene needs a dog." Then you are going to hurt your story. Leave the story where it is when you finish it. Your first creative impulse is almost ALWAYS going to be your best.

Fix the mistakes.

Fill in the gaps.

But don't second-guess your creative brain. If you do it while editing/rewriting, then you'll do it when you come up with the idea, or when you are outlining, or (worst of all) when you are writing the draft - which kills the creative flow.

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Offline Amanda M. Lee

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #18 on: January 19, 2017, 09:13:03 AM »
I don't write in drafts. My first draft is probably 90 percent of my final draft. If I'm in the middle of a book, though, and remember I need to go back and add something, I don't go back and add it right away. I move forward from the spot where I'm working, make a notation for when I go back and edit, and keep pushing forward. Then, when it's time to edit, I have the notation reminding me where I need to add something and that I picked up the added narration note in chapter twenty or whatever and can easily fix it. I've streamlined my process.

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #19 on: January 19, 2017, 09:15:37 AM »
I began with lots of rewriting, which was all learning. These days, I barely rewrite. When I do rewrite, it's for a very good reason. Experience has made my first drafts that much better, and I'm often struck by how well some of those first drafts read, even when I hit the mangled English that pretends to be a story. When I do rewrite/revise/clean up, I do so on a deadline, to keep up my speed and prevent me from going down any unnecessary rabbit holes. So I draft, revise, then editor and revise, then editor again for cleanup.

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Offline Nick Marsden

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #20 on: January 19, 2017, 09:16:23 AM »
I don't write in drafts. My first draft is probably 90 percent of my final draft. If I'm in the middle of a book, though, and remember I need to go back and add something, I don't go back and add it right away. I move forward from the spot where I'm working, make a notation for when I go back and edit, and keep pushing forward. Then, when it's time to edit, I have the notation reminding me where I need to add something and that I picked up the added narration note in chapter twenty or whatever and can easily fix it. I've streamlined my process.
I love this idea! Thanks, Amanda.

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Offline Kyra Halland

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #21 on: January 19, 2017, 09:26:12 AM »
I work in drafts, each revision/edit having a different purpose. My approach (and the way my brain works) is I have to have the whole thing in front of me so I can start to shape it the way I want it, filling in missing parts, taking out what doesn't need to be there, working in the details. Like in layers, is a way to put it. Or like sculpting from a chunk of rock or clay. So the one-draft edit-as-you-go, cycling thing DWS talks about doesn't work for me. My brain does not work that way. What I have learned, that DWS says is important, is to do this from the creative side of my brain, not the critical side. Every change I make is to bring the story closer to what's in my creative vision, not to follow a bunch of so-called rules or because I'm worried about what other people (especially other authors) might say. Even beta reader feedback, even if it makes logical sense, has to pass that creative-mind gut check of "Is this true to the story I want to tell?" I've found that this creative-driven approach makes revision and editing a lot more fun and satisfying, and less dragged out over time, than critical-brain rewriting and editing, where you can never get it right and you just pound the poor story into mush.

Here's a blog post on how I learned all this the hard way: http://www.kyrahalland.com/blog/the-worst-writing-advice-ever-and-how-it-nearly-killed-my-book

Seems to me that it can be distilled down to: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.  Rewrite stuff that needs to be rewritten and don't rewrite stuff that doesn't need to be rewritten.  If the story works, leave it alone.  If something's not working--whether it's a paragraph, a chapter or even the whole novel--then tweak, revise or even rewrite so it does.

Sometimes I think authors get too wrapped up in advice from well-known authors.  So-and-so says "You must rewrite!" so writers think they must rewrite and they parrot the advice again and again.  Some other so-and-so says "You'll ruin it if you rewrite!" so writers think they mustn't rewrite and they parrot the advice again and again.  Ugh!

Just do whatever it takes to write the best story possible.

This, totally.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2017, 09:41:34 AM by Kyra Halland »


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Offline Jacob Stanley

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #22 on: January 19, 2017, 09:42:26 AM »
I definitely agree with the spirit of this and have learned a lot from reading Dean's advice.

One of the main things he recommends is editing as you go to make sure your first draft is fairly clean. I didn't do this as much when I started, but I do it now, and it's made writing much more comfortable for me. Dean has some good videos on his Youtube channel, a free workshop he's giving away on originality in writing, where he talks a lot about this stuff and explains his ideas more fully. (check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLthXGQBdkrDr3udEIc-erFdJYpIZkLSvV)

I still do some very quick revision passes, but I always try to stay away from a "critique" mindset while I revise. I try to experience my book the way a reader would, not the way a critic would. I'm looking for places where the words aren't giving me the right feeling, or where something about the rhythm of the prose knocks me out of the flow. I don't have a checklist or anything that i use while editing. I'm just trying to feel my way through the book, and stay in a creative mindset. Most of my revision work actually makes my books longer because I tend to put in details and add layers. But I never make substantial changes to the story once it's fully assembled.

Overall I would say Dean's advice is good for people who are comfortable editing as they go. Those who want to freewrite their way through a first draft at breakneck speed without ever looking back (which is also a valid method) will probably need to spend more time in revision, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

- - -
I work in drafts, each revision/edit having a different purpose. My approach (and the way my brain works) is I have to have the whole thing in front of me so I can start to shape it the way I want it, filling in missing parts, taking out what doesn't need to be there, working in the details. Like in layers, is a way to put it. Or like sculpting from a chunk of rock or clay. So the one-draft edit-as-you-go, cycling thing DWS talks about doesn't work for me. My brain does not work that way. What I have learned, that DWS says is important, is to do this from the creative side of my brain, not the critical side. Every change I make is to bring the story closer to what's in my creative vision, not to follow a bunch of so-called rules or because I'm worried about what other people (especially other authors) might say. Even beta reader feedback, even if it makes logical sense, has to pass that creative-mind gut check of "Is this true to the story I want to tell?" I've found that this creative-driven approach makes revision and editing a lot more fun and satisfying, and less dragged out over time, than critical-brain rewriting and editing, where you can never get it right and you just pound the poor story into mush.

Here's a blog post on how I learned all this the hard way: http://www.kyrahalland.com/blog/the-worst-writing-advice-ever-and-how-it-nearly-killed-my-book


Totally agree with all the bolded. This is exactly my feeling on Dean's advice. When you start looking at your book like a scientist trying to dissect something, that's when you get into trouble. It's all about gut feelings.

« Last Edit: January 20, 2017, 09:42:22 AM by Jacob Stanley »

Offline Soothesayer

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #23 on: January 19, 2017, 10:18:24 AM »
Clive Barker and Dean Koontz both have admitted in interviews that they are obsessive rewriters. If it's good enough for them, it is good enough for me. I rewrite for clarity and vision, not flowery prose (though there is nothing wrong with that either).

Judging from some of the other DWS/Rusch threads on here (where he gives horrible advice on pricing, marketing, no promotion, etc.), I would take his opinion with a grain of salt.

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Re: Anyone ever follow Dean Wesley Smith's advice to NOT rewrite?
« Reply #24 on: January 19, 2017, 10:33:22 AM »
Yes, he calls it cycling - where you go back over your work and add/change things. The key component I believe he makes is state of mind. 

If you are making changes while in the creative mind set  that's NOT rewriting. 

However, if you go back over your work from the critical mindset than that IS rewriting and he believes doing so will hurt your writing.

I believe each writer should do what works for them.  And usually learning your writing process takes trial and error PLUS time.

Good Luck.

Wow, that's a great insight! Thanks for saying it!

I tend to write near-final first drafts, but with every writing session I do a rolling edit of last day's work and then continue onward with new material, so the whole process is a create-edit hybrid.  I also write pretty slowly (even more so lately due to medical issues).

However when the first draft is done, I set it aside for a few days, and then do a light edit mostly to add things, the takes me just a few days. So, the bulk of work happens in the first draft portion.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2017, 10:40:25 AM by Vera Nazarian »

QUALIFY -high-octane dystopian SF teen adventure in apocalyptic vein of DIVERGENT & THE HUNGER GAMES
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