The Wrong Way to Write

“If Kris Rusch were sitting across from us right now, she would just shake her head and say I should have just started with a clean sheet,” I said to Lisa a few days ago. We were sitting in a pizza joint just off Thornydale and Tangerine. Lisa had asked me about the work I’ve been doing on this book of mine.

It’s a book I’ve been saying “won’t take more than a week or so to close up” about for about the last two months. And in truth it really shouldn’t be this hard. It’s a book I’ve been envisioning and working on for a long time, and a book that is comprised in part by three short stories I’ve had published by Analog. How hard can it be, eh? Just string ‘em together and be done with it, by God!

And, in fact, it’s a book I “finished” about three weeks ago.

Here’s the rub, though. Here’s the deal, the final truth—here’s the skinny, as it were.

As I was finishing this thing up, I went to see Mary Doria Russell talk about her new book Epitaph. Along the way, she said that she needs to know what every character’s first fourteen years were like, because for her those 14 years serve the foundation upon which a character’s story rests. I let this filter through me as she went on, and as the chain reaction of my thoughts ran its course I knew I wasn’t done with this book. In fact, I knew exactly what was coming—essentially a full rewrite.

So, yes, I probably should have just dumped the manuscript and went back at it from a fresh blank page. But, f course, I didn’t. And right now I’m paying the price. The work it takes to rewrite a book like this is painstaking—it’s like rewiring a city’s entire power grid one block at a time. But I have to say that as each part emerges again, I find I like it more and more. Of course, when one block is done, I then have to go back in to the next block and do it all again—which is becoming mind-numbing in its own way.

The thing is gonna give me PTSD, I’m telling you…

Bottom line: A lot of writers I know (including me) will tell you there is really no one “right way” to complete a manuscript. But, I can report with the utmost sincerity that if there is a “wrong way” to complete a story, I’m 100% certain that finding the real root of your main characters after you’ve completed the story qualifies.

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