Rewriting the Year To Come

It’s New Year’s day: The kids are ‘cleaning their rooms’ (which means finding all the toys they’ve secreted throughout, playing with them, and then getting more toys out to add to the playtime and result in a messier room than they started); it’s another warm, dry summer’s day outside; Disney soundtracks are playing on iTunes, and I have 50 pages of outline in front of me needing attention.

As the calendar year flips over another digit I’ve cause to reflect on what an amazing year 2013 has been. It’s been a year of big changes and broadened horizons: a new job, in a new industry, employing new concepts and technologies; riding a motorcycle again after a four year hiatus; making time to write and get productive again.

Throughout, I found myself fronting up to fears and roadblocks and forcing myself past them. Restraining a pattern of negative thinking has been a constant struggle, but it’s been worth it. At the end of the year I’ve things to show for the effort.

The last three months, when there’s been a few minutes here and there, I’ve been writing again. And now, at the end of the year and with extensive notes and an outline for a novel, I can see what the theme for 2014 is going to be.

Learning to rewrite.

In the past, rewriting has been like pulling teeth; it’s been like an opportunity for the negative thought patterns to get out and stretch their legs: Couldn’t I just tidy up the draft? If I couldn’t write a decent draft in the first place, then I’m bad at this, right? It only needs rewriting because it’s broken…

Then I started thinking about process, how it fits in with reading, and began reframing rewriting. Rewriting is the writer’s half of the reader’s re-reading. It’s a chance to grow an improved story. Add layers.

In software development we don’t tend to rewrite. It happens, but only extremely rarely. Usually, we only refactor – take a part of the whole, and restructure it to be cleaner, clearer, or more efficient if there’s some benefit to the exercise. Rewriting is avoided – because it’s horribly expensive. Subtle features in the original get forgotten in the rewrite. The rewrite takes forever. You’re losing money and productivity that could have been better spent elsewhere. Maybe business will dictate a rewrite after the product’s been around a while, but almost never will the current code be binned and something new started from scratch.

But I like the coding analogy. Coding has taught me to put my butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard, or to stick with the project and see it through, or to carefully consider structure before starting.

And so here, like many other analogies, any comparison of fiction writing to software development breaks down. They’re simply different, with different goals and audiences. As I work on a project which I enjoy being immersed in, I can see the benefit of letting go of what’s already been written, taking a fresh look, and moving the story onward and upward. Because story isn’t plot – it isn’t even what was written. It’s what we’re trying to say. It’s what we want the reader to take with them. And there’s always a better way to say it.

I hope you’ve had a magnificent 2013, and all the very best for 2014.