There are two ways to ruin a recipe that contains wheat flour. You can overmix it, and you can undermix it. Gluten is a sensitive structure. It can ruin something that you want to remain delicate in pastries or cakes, and it can create hockey pucks out of the best intentioned bread by under developing it.
Rewriting is kneading what you have and making it into what you want. much more developing the gluten of the story to give you the structure that you want. There are two ways to knead, you can be very hands on with it, bashing it around until you develop the gluten that’s going to make bread bready, but you can also leave it alone. Water and flour when mixed can create gluten completely on its own, you don’t need to touch it. The best bread is bashed around a bit, let sit for a really long time, bashed back down again, stretched into the shape that you need it to bake into, and then baked loaf reaches an interior temperature of 200-205 degrees. It’s not a perfect analogy, but it tastes pretty good.
Finishing Rabbit is such a massive load off my shoulders. I’ve been working non-stop on the rewrites since January. I wrote the first draft of this story in April of 2013, rewrote it entirely in November of 2013, let it sit for a year, rewrote it again all but entirely in November of 2014, tried to do an edit of it in January of 2015, realized it needed about 50% of it rewritten, rewrote *that* in February, and just finished the first line edit at two a.m. last night.
Why did it need so much rewriting? The story wasn’t right. At each point I could have turned in the manuscript as it was and have it accepted, but it every time I went to edit it, I ended up rewriting most of it. The plot didn’t change, but the characters’ motivation did. Several times where I felt stuck for days on scenes that didn’t have anything wrong with it suddenly revealed a plot point that I hadn’t even considered, but fixed multiple problems and brought everything that followed into a completely new focus.
It is possible to overwork or underwork a story. While critiquing a novel, you can sometimes see either a piece of work that has been workshopped or critiqued by so many people that the narrative almost feels like it lost the single driving force that is supposed to guide the reader from the beginning to the end of the story. By adding to without ever taking away you can get stories that have lost their focus. Whether or not multiple personalities actually exist, or exists at the rate that it has since media has gotten its claws into people’s psyche, stories can feel as though the author was trying different things at different times for different reasons with sometimes very different characters.
Conversely, underworking a story is just as bad. Bringing the reader to the point of your story but then requiring them to need glasses to see it clearly or keeping them behind a pane of glass or at arm’s reach isn’t emotionally satisfying, either. In Vihart’s video They Become What They Beheld, she reads from the foreword of Ted Carpenter’s book where she talks about new ideas are not going to spring up fully formed. They’re going to be tentative and imperfect. If the first way you say anything is perfect, you might either already know how to write well enough that you’ve obtained the level of success that you like, or you’ve captured lightning in a bottle and although it’s brilliant, you don’t know how to do it again or if the other two statements aren’t true, you might not be saying anything new.
The idea that the first way most people tell their story is the best way of saying it isn’t usually true. Everything can be perfected on. Maybe too much, that’s definitely a risk, but if you put your work out there for other people to want to pay you money and time for, don’t you owe it to the idea of what you’re trying to say is the best way you could have possibly said it? Editing just what is on the page is great for the final draft, but once upon a time it was perfectly standard to go through multiple drafts of telling a story in order to get it right, and a rewrite, predating word processors was actually that, rewriting the story. Every time you manually go to enter in the new draft, you’re going to manually have to enter each sentence over again. For small edits, sure, people actually cut and pasted chunks of text around.
Word processors changed all that. It suddenly became possible to just change what was wrong with a story, but not touch on the bits that weren’t bad. Not bad and not good are two different things, but when you go to edit a piece instead of rewriting it, any part of the story that isn’t edited remains untouched.