The mindset that rewriting a story is “wasted work” is the number one career sabotage for writers still trying to establish themselves. The idea that going back and rewriting a book “wastes” anything at all is simply stupid. There’s no other kinder way of saying it. Reworking a book is not just going back to make sure that what you have to say doesn’t have any errors in it.
You don’t have to go back and rewrite the book so that the entire story from page one streamlines the plot to the ending you’ve written. You don’t have to make sure that you have put all the information in the place it needs to be for the reader to have exactly what they need, when they need it. You certainly don’t have to make sure that the microtension at the sentence level leaves tiny clues throughout the story, and you don’t need to be the author who folds in what they already have planned out with the two a.m. or shower jolts of genius.
But if you’re not willing to rewrite from the beginning if that’s what the story needs, you also have to realize that you are competing with people who have. That first draft is for them just the clay they need to build the best story they possibly can. And if you really do believe that your first attempt in that slush pile is as good as someone else’s best attempt, then you shouldn’t be in the slush pile at all.
I wrote nine books last year, and I had the time to rewrite them all once I’d finished them. And before I sent them off to my editor 3-9 months later, I rewrote them a third time. I finally understood that if I did not have the time to rewrite my stories, someone else will have. No matter how good I thought my finished book was at the time that I finished it, there was always room for improvement. Always.
There may come a point in my career when I finally think that my best is my best the first time I say it, but I’m not there yet. And unless you have a very large group of people who want nothing more than to put down after tax dollars and after work hours to read what you have to write, chances are you are not there either. There’s also a very good chance that anyone who has that kind of following will be the first ones to preach at the altar of the rewrite. Good books aren’t written, they’re rewritten.
There is a danger of rewriting something to the point that you’ve killed off any part of the original shine, but that’s a whole different rant post.