Posted on February 23, 2020
Hi, my name is Jake MacMillan and I’m a rewrite-aholic. And apparently I’m also a hack comic who just puts “aholic” on the end of everything as a punchline. Whatever you want to call it, I’m addicted to rewriting my novels well past the point where any sane person would have simply given up on them and I think there are two reasons for that.
One is my brain is half engineer and half creator. The creative side loves to dream up stories and the engineer loves to build them. Constructing a narrative is a little like writing software. You set an end point, begin writing, and then have to come up with logical solutions to the problems that arise.
But another part of the engineering brain is the iterative response to a feedback loop. If I send out a story to 25 agents and all 25 pass without comment, my engineering brain tells me there’s a problem with the story, not the 25 agents.
Yes, writing is art and publishing is subjective, but one also must admit there’s a reason 100% of agents aren’t even interested in reading more about the story.
Whether it’s market conditions, they’re saturated by similar takes on similar veins, or just the subject in general there is a reason the query and the sample chapters aren’t igniting interest.
And that’s when the creative brain spins up in the background while I’m spitting out defensive tweets about how being rejected doesn’t mean there’s a problem and gets to work grinding its gears until it comes up with a new way to tell the story.
Now, I know a LOT of writers suffer from the “hate writing, love having written” syndrome, but I do not. When an idea presents itself to me for a viable story, whether for a new novel or a new take on a failing one, I leap.
Here’s where my engineer brain fails in this process: when I start writing the new take, I stop marketing the old one. To be fair to the older version, I should keep sending it out because, yes, it may be the 30th agent who falls in love with it.
If it still doesn’t get picked up, the process at least expands the sample size as just more proof it was an inferior product to begin with which further supports creating the new version.
The above sounds like a pretty cold blooded approach for someone who considers writing to be an art form, but I have never been the “create in a vacuum” type. For me to complete the circuit of the creative process I have to connect with readers and I can’t do that until I convince a whole phalanx of gatekeepers to let me through.
But also, I never write anything I’m not in love with. My only nod to selling out to push back from the publishing industry is basically, “Oh? You didn’t like that take? Here’s a whole new take on the same story that I love even more.”
The other reason I’m an over-rewriter is hinted at in the title. Funny names aside, George Lucas’ first draft of what would become the Star Wars epic leaves a lot to be desired. Most of it is utterly ridiculous and so overly complicated there would have been no way to distill it into a movie. But he kept coming back to it with new revisions and, like polishing a rock, he ended up with a gem.*
Every new idea for a different take on a story innervates me with the possibility this one is the one that cannot be improved. So, as I dive into the sixth page one rewrite of my SF novel, I’m not depressed about the trip I’m going to take. My hopes are buoyed by the promise of achieving writing the version that will get me through the gates and into the readers’ minds.
* One can also surmise his unending need to tinker with his stories led to the regrettable “fixed” versions of the movies we loved, but that’s another argument to be saved for some rainy day.