on rewriting

David Gerrold wrote a book called ‘Worlds of Wonder’, focused on fantasy and science fiction writing. I enjoyed reading it– he had a very friendly style, and it was easy to empathize with him… especially once he started out by telling a story about how a terrible writing professor told him he wouldn’t amount to anything in the field, and his first published works were inspired out of rage. This isn’t of course to say that I agreed with everything in his book, but two of the points he made stuck with me, which is fairly good considering I’m an overly critical skeptic.

I’ll paraphrase his sentiment.

The first million words are for practice. Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. Practice writing your book. Practice editing it. Practice sending it out. Don’t worry. You’re just practicing. Practice receiving rejection letters. And if someone is foolish enough to publish one of your practice novels, that doesn’t mean anything either. Practice cashing that check. After those first million words, then you can start taking yourself seriously.

Perhaps this is something personal, perhaps not. I found this passage extraordinarily liberating, probably because I get anxious before I start writing or drawing. Am I starting in the right place? Is this really the way I want to present this? I have such a hard time shutting my inner editor up. NaNoWriMo was one of the best things I’ve done– it let me finish the 0-draft of my book, with the knowledge that I would be going back and rewriting everything. Like doing small thumbnail sketches in art, the terrible, rushed version still told me where I was going, what elements I would be using. I got out a blank sheet of paper for the second version and rewrote it more concisely, longer, emphasizing some of the right details. And I’m planning on starting almost entirely from scratch a second time before I get into editing the prose itself. I need to get all the elements correct first before I start polishing my piece. And I might be overly optimistic, but I think my writing is getting stronger with each pass.

Don’t worry. It doesn’t count. It’s just for practice.

I’m going to make this book shine.

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4 thoughts on “on rewriting

  1. Yep, all just practice. And more practice. Like you, I want to make my novel shine. I think of it as spit polishing shoes. Right now, I’m spending most of my time spitting at my novel, but that might change in the future.

  2. Yes, exactly! NaNoWriMo opened my eyes to the fury and fun of just getting it out, having that first sh!tty draft, and then going from there. You can’t work with an empty page.

  3. It’s true. My first four novels were all what I now consider practice. They gave me a chance to play around with viewpoint and learn about how story structure works. I find a lot of aspiring writers seem to think themselves failures if their first attempts don’t get published, but I think it’s just like the quote you present here says: those first works are for learning. In that way they are probably the most valuable words that we ever write (even if in the end we decide they’re also some of the worst).

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