Trying On Clothes: A Metaphor For Rewrites

I sit in my critiquing meeting as my best friend furiously draws huge X’s through entire pages of my manuscript. I laugh because I know she means well, and she may very well be right – the entire scene may need to go. It may need to be rewritten, or split into pieces, or placed elsewhere in the story.

I’m an outliner, and I am writing to an outline, but as I tell anyone who tries to feed me the bullshit line “Outlining takes all the fun out of things, there’s no surprises!”, no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. If I agonized over what order scenes were going to go in, and whether or no every single scene needs to be there, I would freeze up and never get anything done.

So even though I have an outline, stuff doesn’t always flow out onto the page smoothly. But you can revise what you haven’t written, so this bunch of scenes, I just went ahead and banged them out. There’s some repetitiveness in them, because there’s a couple of different ways I could reveal plot points, and I ended up writing more than one version.

It’s like if you need a dress for an event, and you have a pretty decent idea of what you want – you have a picture in your head. You have a favourite colour, a style, maybe you know you hate princess bodices (princess bodices look terrible on me) and you like lace but not sequins, chiffon is great, etc.

But you don’t show up at the store, grab a dress off the shelf that has all the right stuff and take it to the counter. You try it on, because sometimes the way a dress fits, it may be made to flatter one body type and not another. Sometimes it turns out that’s not your colour. Or you have these fantastic shoes you want to wear, but they don’t match the dress, and you find a good dress, but you have to choose between the dress and the shoes – the two don’t go together.

And writing is just like that. I always tell newer authors starting revisions not to be afraid of rewrites because sometimes you don’t know a dress is going to look awful on you until you try it on. Sometimes that scene both needs to be written, and needs to be cut. Sometimes you have to bang it all out onto the page and piece the fragments together later. Sometimes there’s a plot twist that could be executed three different ways, and you have to write them all before you know which one works best.

Outlining can help, but it doesn’t eliminate all rewrites. Unpredictable things happen as words flow onto the page and your story takes on a life of it’s own, and outlining doesn’t stop that from happening. And just because something comes out crap the first time you write it doesn’t mean you’re a shit writer, it’s often just part of the process. So go fearlessly write crap, and when you think you’ll just be cutting it later, don’t let it paralyze you. But don’t let it stop you from cutting it later either.

Writing a novel is a lot of work, don’t try to cut corners or let your novel be less than the best it can be just because you don’t want to rewrite something that needs rewriting!

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4 Things Not To Do On The NaNoWriMo Reference Desk

I’ll get back to critique groups, but the NaNoWriMo site has rebooted and of course that means there’s a slough of new posts on the reference desk forum.

Which also means, all those annoying people who post annoying things are back.

So, here’s a few of the things that drive your fellow knowledgeable writers nuts:

Vague Post Titles: So you go to post a question and it won’t let you hit post without putting something in the title. Do you A) title it something descriptive so people who might have an answer can tell by looking at the post title without having to click on the post and read it – or B) title it “Question”.

*squinty eyes*

Yeah, I have some specialized knowledge about some specific stuff, namely aviation, bees, autism, African violets, and maybe a few other scattered things. I’m not going to click through to every frelling post that has no indication of what it’s about in order to see if maybe it’s one of those things that I know stuff about. If you do this, don’t be surprised that you have next to no replies.

Questions You Could Too Easily Research Yourself: Sometimes people post questions and you look at them and think, “Did they even try?” Like, I’ve taken some people’s questions and copy-pasted them into google and the first result gives them their answer.

I’ll pick on one recent one – someone asked how and when the United States acquired Alaska. Like, this is the easiest thing in the world to google, and find trustworthy sources, but you’d rather try your luck with randos on a forum who are literally just googling it for you.

Questions Too Broad To Answer At All: “Tell me everything you know about _______.” People will post this, and it won’t be something like “Tell me everything you know about the mating habits of swallowtail butterflies.” It’s “Tell me everything you know about Russia.” That’s an actual one I remember.

I just wonder what these people are thinking. Like, what kind of answers are they expecting? Do they not know that there are actual Russians out there, reading this forum and going “What…what do they want to know?”

I got nothin.

Questions That Assume Everyone Who Could Be Reading The Question Lives In The Same Country As The Person Posting It: Americans are the worst offenders here. Someone posts a question where the answer will be vastly different depending on where the story is set, but the questioner assumes everyone knows they’re talking about the USA, because where else would it be. This is common with questions about adoption, laws governing this or that, police procedure, school related things.

I run into it a lot when trying to answer aviation related questions, because air laws are similar but different between the US and here in Canada, and some of the hugest differences are due to how much more radar coverage there is in America compared to Canada.

Replies I Could Have Googled Myself: Okay, so when I post a question myself, I’ve usually googled it pretty thoroughly. Like, my google-fu is pretty damned good, so if I’m asking a question on a forum, I need an actual expert on the subject.

And yet, even when I end my post with “Please don’t just google the topic and post your search results, I’ve already googled the topic extensively, and I need someone who actually knows what they’re talking about”, I still get dudes doing this. Like they think I’m stupid, even though I’ve explicitly worded my question, and none of their search results or answers composed based on their search answered the question I was asking.

And these people can get arrogant and authoritative on their googling. There was once I saw a question about bees and beekeeping, and pointed out the fact that beekeepers wear white because bright colours excite the bees, and dark colours trigger them to become defensive and sting. This guy insisted that I was wrong, colours had no effect on bee behavior. Why? Because even though my dad has been a beekeeper all his life and I’ve worked with him with the bees and among beekeepers this is common knowledge, this guy couldn’t find anything confirming it in his googling, therefore I had to be wrong.

When I pointed out that google wasn’t the end-all authority of beekeeping, especially since beekeepers tend to be a bunch of old guys who can’t be bothered with the internet, his reply was “As a matter of fact, my google-fu is exceptional.”

*headdesk*

So yeah, don’t be those people. Happy Wrimoing.