Rewrites and the Happy Writer

This is a merging of two posts I wrote for the Wyrdsmiths blog back in ’08.

Post the first: Justine Larbalestier is saying very smart things about rewriting at her blog. It’s an involved post and definitely worth reading. As usual I don’t agree with her about everything, but I’m a funny sort of monkey and much less prone to rounds of self-doubt and low self esteem than the average author.

Post the second (a response to that part of that otherwise wonderful post on rewriting that made me want to tear my hair out): Aspects of Justine’s enormously useful post on rewriting have inspired me to write a post I hadn’t planned.

It’s really all because of this paragraph: Reading through what you have written with all those contradictory and annoying comments scrawled in the margins will most likely fill you with despair. Don’t worry: Despair is an integral part of the rewriting process. Your despair will deepen. When you’ve been over a manuscript four or five or twenty or a hundred times you’ll know the true meaning of despair.

This idea drives me crazy. Yes, despair can be a part of the process, and for many writers it is. But “integral?” No, I don’t think so. I’ve certainly felt despair as a writer, but always over the business, never over the writing. I love writing. I love rewriting too. I even love finding those structural flaws Justine talks about. Do I like that they’re there? No. But I love the problem solving game involved in fixing them.

I actually find the idea that every writer must have moments of massive self-doubt and misery over their work to be deeply pernicious. It has the potential to cause happy writers to either devalue their own non-despair inducing process or to seek out misery in hopes that it will improve their work. And that’s just not right. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the whole thing.

If you do happen to feel despair as part of the process, that’s all right–there are 1,001 ways to write a novel, every one of them right. But if you don’t, don’t beat yourself up over it. Revel in not suffering for your art. For a longer take on that, go read Jane Yolen’s wonderful book on writing: Take Joy.

The process doesn’t have to hurt.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog as two posts on January 2 2008 and, January 3 2008. Original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)