Privately and some in the public posts after my last Killing Sacred
Cows of Publishing chapter, I got comments about redrafting a manuscript, so thought it might be worth a story here.
When I was starting out, I mailed anything I finished, as I said, even before my workshop saw it. I never rewrote because I had learned that many pro writers didn’t rewrite much, and I wanted to be working forward, creating new stuff and practicing. I figured editors would be the best judges to tell me if something worked or didn’t work.
So I did my three-draft method and mailed everything.
But then along came a story idea I really liked. We all have them, the idea that grabs us and won’t let go. This idea was my time-traveling jukebox idea. I wrote a story about it and when I mailed it, I knew, without a doubt, that I hadn’t dealt with the idea correctly. The manuscript didn’t work. I still mailed it.
But then I decided to write another story with the same idea. Without looking at the first story that was piling up rejections in the mail, I wrote the idea again and mailed it. I still wasn’t happy with the result.
So a month or so later I went at the idea again with yet another story. This one sold to Twilight Zone Magazine and came out eventually in its sister magazine Night Cry. But I still wasn’t happy with the story or what I did with the idea.
So I wrote the story again. This one sold to F&SF Magazine, it got award nominations, and has been reprinted four times, but I still wasn’t happy.
So again and again and again I have gone at the idea with a different redraft, a new story, trying to get it right. As of this point I have sold seven jukebox stories and I know I still haven’t written the story I really want to write about the idea. Often the same characters are in each story, often similar events happen, but the are all very different attempts at the idea.
If I had gone down the rewrite hole with this story, I never would have created the different stories, never made the sales, never let myself explore the idea as only years of going at it can explore.
So if you believe that every story you write must be perfect, my suggestion to you is run from this business now. It won’t happen, and New York will screw with your brain more than you will ever be able to stand. But if every story is just practice as you work to get better, and you let editors decide if the practice session is worth publishing, you will be better served.
And with that kind of attitude, your words are no longer gold that should be treasured. They are simply your tool to transmit a story from your head to a reader’s head. And if a tool is broken, go forward and just write it again from scratch. Just a suggestion that very few newer writers will be able to do.
Follow Heinlein’s Rules and go forward.