Fezzywhig asked me something on Tumblr today, and I thought it might make a good writing entry on the blog, so I’m putting it over here, too. As with every piece of writing advice I give, please keep in mind that this may not necessarily apply to every writer. We’re all different, and those differences should be celebrated.
Fezzywhig asked: Apologies if this was asked before. As a prolific writer, have you ever been tempted to go back to a finished work and tweak or change it? Also a sideways question. Has anyone addressed you by one of your nom de plumes’s in person? If so how do you overcome the fanboy awkwardness?
Hey! I think somebody has asked me this before, but not in a public setting. And I definitely don’t mind getting asked a question multiple times, as long as that question isn’t, “IS THERE GOING TO BE A SEQUEL?” (while not commenting on the fic itself) or “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO UPDATE SO AND SO?” when I’ve already said that that story is on hiatus. Also, a lot of it has to do with the tone of the question being asked. :)
To answer your first question: I’m tempted, a lot, to go back and change my work. Every time I reread it, I see something I could tweak or even rewrite. Just watch me reread That Which is Greater sometime. It will enlighten you as to how hard somebody can grit their teeth. There are entire chapters of that I would cut or rewrite in a heartbeat.
Now here’s where some authors are about to disagree with me because, even though I’m tempted to go back and rewrite things (like the first chapter of Fates, for example), I don’t, and I won’t. My philosophy is that once something is published, it gets minor cosmetic changes and nothing else (like, fixing a grammatical error, or using Angry Birds in 2002 on accident). I don’t believe in going back and rewriting my old fics because to me, those stories have been told. They’re done. Hopefully, I told them the best way I could, but it’s time to move on and to use the things I learned writing those fics to write newer and hopefully better tales.
Part of this is because I think my writing has, if not plateau’d, at least grown pretty consistent. When I was younger, you could tell what books I had been reading the night before by looking at the scene I wrote the morning after, but now I think my style is pretty proprietary. As a writer, you’re never as good as you can be ans there’s always room for improvement, of course. But my truly terrible starting work is on another name (that I will not be sharing) that I don’t check anymore because I don’t want to look at it and groan and be tempted to tell the grand ideas that were in my head but couldn’t come out on the page. I came into my Frea name after I’d been writing for fourteen years, doing things like Nanowrimo and writing regularly on fanfiction and other original novels. I’d had a little time to start making mistakes and learning how best to tell a scene, so I was a little more of a veteran writer than other knew. So for me to go back and work on some of the Frea stuff now, while I hope I would improve it, there’s a chance I might not. Sometimes those new tales aren’t any better—maybe the story wasn’t the right fit for me, or something just didn’t work—but sometimes they are. I still have people that tell me Walker’s Eleven is my best work. I wrote that two years ago and have written hundreds of thousands of words since.
But other writers don’t feel the same way I do, obviously. BillAtWork, for example, is going through and remastering his entire collection, and people seem to be liking that a lot. And who knows? Maybe he as a writer has improved enough by learning all of the things he has that he’s going back that the remastering is a vast improvement. And maybe it would be the same for me (I doubt it, for reasons I listed in the above paragraph). But I’d rather keep moving...like a shark! I’d rather keep going forward, seeing what the next story is to tell, testing how to push the limits of my brain and come up with new ways to describe some of the same scenes (which is honestly why I’ve switched fandoms; I accidentally recycled a scene from Walker’s Eleven and used it in Set, Spike, Dive!, which is a sign that it was time to move on for awhile).
And Pixar agrees with me, by the way. Rule 8 of their 22 Rules of Storytelling is “Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.” And I firmly believe that that’s what you should do. If your story wasn’t “good enough,” make the next one better. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Now, of course, this is talking about when the story is finished, not in the editing stages, of course. While I’m editing, anything is fair game! I’ve thrown out ten to twenty pages at a time (and told Max to do the same, muhaha). And that’s a topic I can talk about another time. This is for later, after you’ve edited and your story is finished. But wait, Frea, when is the story finished? That is for you to decide as a writer. I took a creative writing class (I was a screenwriting minor in college, bee tee dubs) and my professor talked about going to a poetry reading by a somewhat famous poet who’d had a book of somewhat famous poems out. And that poet read not the poem from the published version of their book, but an edited version. That poet still didn’t believe that the poem was finished, even though it had been published. That’s why, as writers, we need to set our own firm lines. Mine is “When the story goes up online” or “goes to the printer.” Other writers believe that the story is never truly finished and can be updated at any time. And while that may work for you as a writer, I caution people at against this. Deadlines, hard, rigid ones that won’t let you futz about with anything more than grammar and a few details, those will challenge you to write the best story you can and let you learn from your mistakes so that you can keep going. Writing is a competitive thing. You’re competing against your own brain. Don’t let it win.
Now, about your second question...I’ve never actually had anybody recognize me like that before. I have run into somebody that read one of my stories, and that was at a write-in for Nanowrimo. It was a lovely time. We talked about Yuletide and stories we liked and she knew my real name because I’d already introduced myself as [Frea’s Real Name here]. I’ve met three people from the fandom deliberately, and they all knew my real name, too, so I’ve never had to deal with fanboy awkwardness. It’d be interesting to experience, but I promise you, I’m very different from my online persona. Also, I’ve never really done anything worthy of being fanboyed over, in my opinion. :) Why do you ask? Are you trying to come to St. Louis to get a personalized autographed copy of Fates?