I think when we write, we’re thinking about what we put in the tea bag of our story. When we write, we forget that the story is a collection of words until the reader reads it. And it’s the reader’s impression that makes the story complete. Until your words are steeped in the reader, the collection of words are just words.
A lot of the stories I’ve critiqued for other people in the past seemed more focused on what was happening on the page than what the future reader would be reading. There will be a lot of clean up between the best you can make the story and the work of editors driving the story to its completed form, but even the best that writers can do could still do with a lot of clean-up.
As I’m rewriting Rabbit, I’ve been cutting a lot, tightening what I don’t cut and rewriting what I don’t tighten. It’s the third rewrite of the story. Each version of it is better than the one before. I’ve come a long way in my writing from the me now to ten years in the past me. It never occurred to me to think of how the reader would feel, reading my stuff. But that’s the only thing that matters in your writing. When you stop thinking about your book as being about a character who does stuff and start thinking about how your main character does stuff in order to make the reader feel something, it makes it a lot easier to look at your writing and eliminate all the dull parts. There are dozens of way of writing tensions; it doesn’t always have to be the characters need to do X before the world blows up, but there should always be current running through the story to keep the ideal reader turning the page.
Once you start thinking about that, rewriting becomes easier. It’s a lot more work, but what costs more time? Spending your time rewriting a book so that it’s emotionally rewarding to the reader from start to finish, or expecting people to put down after tax, after expenses money and needs after work, after social and family obligations but before sleep time down for a product that is the very first time you tried to tell the story? Rewriting does “waste time”, but whose time is more valuable to you? Yours, or your readers?
When you put all the themes, word choices, plot, twists, emotional highs and lows, tension, conflict and character development into your teabag of a story, you want to make sure that what comes out of that bag not only tastes good, but fllls the need the reader has in their life. The world is full of things that entrepreneurs create in hopes of solving a problem no one has, and no amount of “as seen on TV” branding can convince people that they need it. When a person sits down and wants to read a good book that takes them to a new world, to fall in love with a new character who has a new problem, they are spoiled for choice. If you want to make sure your work is competitive to the stories that are already out there. No matter how talented you are, your first attempt has to compete with someone else’s best attempt. Rewriting a story two, three, five times will make what you’re trying to make your reader feel what you’re trying to get them to feel.