Posted in writing

Things I’ve learned from rewriting chapter one a million times

Sometimes, a writer just has to scrap what their doing and start over. It’s frustrating, but sometimes, rewriting something is unavoidable.

This week, I’ve restarted one of my stories for what feels like the millionth time. It probably wouldn’t be so frustrating if I have ten or so more chapters afterwards, but I don’t. Oh, I have an outline, but there’s nothing quite like knowing where you’re going. And an outline doesn’t show a writer what’s going to happen in her book. It’s the difference between knowing and experiencing.

I try to keep an open mind about rewriting and critiquing, and I’ve realized a few things.

It’s okay to rewrite something a million times

As writers, we learn and improve upon our craft by doing it over and over. There’s no short cut to being a good writer. So rewriting your work simply means you’re giving yourself more time to improve your craft.

Every time you pull out your computer or a piece of paper and jot down some words, your becoming a better writer.  Your words will be better, and your story will improve. It’s when you stop writing that things get worse.

Rewriting clarifies things

One reason why I’ve been rewriting is because I don’t know where the story is going. The vision in my head isn’t clear enough, and my characters haven’t been talking to me.

By writing the same scene over and over–or, in my case, twenty completely different scenes–I not only refined the scene into the best version itself it could be, I got to commit to paper different ideas and see which worked the best. Like painting a puzzle and trying to put it together at the same time. I had too many ideas and options, and I needed to weed through them.

Rewriting made me listen

While trying to find the plot for my book, I had to do a lot of rereading and thinking. I read my previous story, read my notes, and read my ideas. I listened to my characters, and did a lot of gut checking. What was giving me fits? What was making me stumble? Was I trying to hard? Was I, perhaps, going in the wrong direction?

It’s hard to force a story into a shape it doesn’t want to fit into. Some people will scoff at the idea of a story writing itself. We are writers–we control the story, not the other way around. Well, sometimes that’s the case. And sometimes it isn’t.

But if your story won’t go the direction you want it to, maybe it’s best to stop forcing it and see what it wants to do. That may mean giving up on something you’d been dead set on doing for forever, or killing a character or something. But what have you got to lose? Maybe your story will be better for writing itself. I do know that when you quit fighting it, writing can be easier.

Rewriting made me review the basics

I will admit, after rewriting the same part of the story over and over, I kind of forgot what I was doing. I mean, I knew it was chapter one, but I forgot what chapter ones were supposed to look like.

So I searched the internet for information.

First chapters are supposed to capture the audience’s attention, so they aren’t supposed to be boring. You introduce your characters, your setting or story world, and the plot. You start writing as late in the story as you can. Most importantly, you’re supposed to make people want to read the next page. That’s hard to do.

The review helped. It gave me bones and rules and structure to work with. Now I had a frame to dress my story on.

Concluding thoughts

I know I’m not going to be done rewriting my story. I’ve barely even started. I may have to scrap what I’ve done yet again and start over, but maybe I won’t have to do it for several more chapters.

Maybe. I won’t know until I get there. It’s hard to know where you’re going when you don’t know where you’re going.

But you won’t know where your going until you know where your going.

Confusing, but hopefully you know what I mean.


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