Back when I was still running my blog through Blogger, I wrote a post discussing my tendency to write the same story over and over again. I talked about how character names sometimes changed a bit, but how the plot has largely remained the same. Writing stories is the way I work through my personal experiences in the “real world”– when those experiences are bad, I can put them into a “writer’s world” and work through them (sometimes modifying the outcome). In that post, I was a little hard on myself; I talked about how I’ve written the same story because I’ve allowed the same experiences to overtake my life, relinquishing control to people and things that rarely had my best interests in mind. Sure, the experiences that affect us are often the ones we let in, but I had forgotten something very important about the writing process: you can go through as many rough drafts as you need to before you reach the final product.
For some, they only need a few drafts to be satisfied with their publish-worthy copy, but for others, it takes a few more. The limbo between initial draft and final draft is often filled with frustration, stress, and pressure… but the story is always worth it. I had been so hard on myself, thinking I was rehashing the same thing over and over again, because I wasn’t taking the time to note my revision process. The story was changing, slowly for sure, but changing nonetheless. I was being an impatient writer, not properly investing in my rewriting but expecting to have something neatly finished and on its way to print. I looked at the people who had made guest appearances in my storyline as people who were meant to be main characters, when really many of them were just collaborative editors– people who brought their own opinions and suggestions for my work to give me the chance to write a more updated draft.
Not all collaborative editors are nice. Sometimes, their feedback is delivered through words and actions that hurt… and feedback that hurts isn’t exactly the kind of feedback you want to take. For me, that hurt has often caused massive amounts of writer’s block, where I abandon my story completely and decide that maybe it will just remain unfinished. During those periods, I read and reread the words already on the page, searching for some kind of clue as to where the story was supposed to go next. It often took a while to see what that painful feedback was really suggesting I edit– sometimes, it was too late to make the changes for the ending I thought I wanted. Many of the suggestions from those collaborative editors ended up really improving my story. Sure, the delivery was certainly lacking in most cases, but sometimes that’s just how the lesson was meant to be learned.
I am gradually becoming comfortable with all the little plot twists my story has undergone. I’ve chosen some of them, taking full artistic liberty to steer my story in a different direction, but sometimes they’ve been prompted by those same editors who had made me afraid to keep writing in the first place. Not all feedback will be nice– in fact, most of it won’t be: that’s just an occupational hazard. The trick to succeeding as a writer (and in life) is to take that feedback in stride and recognize that you might get hurt, but what you do with that hurt is what defines you.
I used to allow my hurt to define me as someone who was unsure of whether to move forward or stay put… someone who was scared to keep writing for fear of what the next editor might say. That’s not the kind of writer I want to be. I want to be someone who is never afraid to write, say, or do what is in my heart, no matter what hurt might come with it. It won’t always be hurt; in fact, the more you let people in and let editors edit what you have, the better the final product will be. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so whatever chance I have to make the best product possible is one I’m going to take. Many of my editors have shown me that the ending I’d hand-picked for myself was not what I fully deserve… those lessons were sometimes taught through heartbreak and disappointment, but everyone’s got their own teaching style. Losing past endings has just made room for infinitely more beginnings as I keep writing and rewriting my drafts.
It’s taken me a while to feel comfortable with my (as-of-now-still) rough draft. It can be frustrating to keep going back and revising what you’ve got, but part of the process of creating a great story is writing, rewriting, and rewriting some more. I’m learning to have patience with the imperfections that are still part of my manuscript– some of them might even stay to the end. Most importantly, I’m learning to appreciate what my collaborative editors have given me– sure, their feedback was sometimes delivered ungracefully, but every piece of that feedback has gotten me to the draft I’m on today. It’s gotten me to the plot twists currently in my storyline, and will continue to move me forward to the next draft, and the draft after that.
When you revise and rewrite, it can seem like you’re stepping backward, but taking the time to reflect on past words and polish them up just a little more moves your story forward, even better than before. I can be an impatient writer, more interested in the final product than the process that gets me there, but your whole story is a process of getting there… you revise, polish, rewrite, then rinse and repeat. That used to frustrate me, because I wanted to reach one final product. What I’ve come to know, however, is that oftentimes it’s the revisions that are the best parts of the story– the plot twists you weren’t expecting, the perspectives you’d never thought about before, the opportunities to try again and know a little bit more about yourself and what you want.
Revision isn’t something that can be rushed, and it’s something you take one day at a time. The editors who help you along the way won’t always be nice and won’t always stick around, but some of them will. Some of them will be kind and stick with you even when you’re afraid you’re never going to write one more sentence of your story. They’ll remind you that you can always go back and polish it up later… but the most important thing is to keep writing. They’ll remind you that telling your story is a process, and that process can involve twenty rounds of revision or two hundred. I have not been writing the same story over and over again– I’ve just been revising and making it even better. So bring on the feedback, editors, I’m ready.