Challenge,  On Writing,  publishing

A Rewriting Metaphor

To Explain Yet Another Reason Why Rewriting Is Silly…

Say your goal is to walk across the United States. About 2,800 miles.

So say your writing career (in a modern world) lasts over forty years like mine and gets you 280 books written. Got to make the numbers round for this metaphor. (grin)

So every 100 miles is a novel in your hike across the United States.

So you set off walking on your novel career and get to the end of your first hundred miles of walking. Nifty. You have completed a novel.

Along the way you have seen some beautiful country, met some people, had some adventures, got stressed some, and learned a lot. Ahead of you is more adventures, more characters, more beautiful country and fun in the next 100 miles (next book).

But you are a rewriter, a person who thinks going over something again will make it better for some reason or another. So you go back to your starting point and walk the same 100 miles again. Same track, same people, same scenery, thinking you are making the journey better.

But you (rewriter) still didn’t do that 100 miles perfectly because of some misplaced belief system taught to you by someone who has never left their own front yard, so you go back and walk the same hundred miles again.

And then a fourth time, same track, same everything. That walk of 100 miles is now dull and boring, with no adventures, nothing new, just dullness and sameness that you are adding in as you go.

You have actually walked 400 miles in distance and in time, but only covered 100 miles. You only have one thing done, and you have made that one thing dull and boring.

What is worse is that you have learned nothing more by the three extra times over the same track. But you have spent a lot of time at the effort because you believed you needed to do that before you could go to the next 100 miles.

Now, if you didn’t rewrite, just finished the first 100 miles and released the adventure of that trip, and kept walking FORWARD, you would learn new things in the second hundred miles, meet new people, have new adventures, and it would be fun.

Same for the next 100 miles after that going FORWARD, and the next. In the same amount of time a rewriter spent making an adventure dull and boring, the non-rewriter has covered four times the amount of distance, learned a lot more, and had more fun.

And who wins in the writing journey? The writer with four exciting released novels or the writer with one dull released novel? Hmmm?

Silly metaphor I must admit, but sometimes it takes something silly like this to show how really fruitless and silly rewriting is.

And how destructive.

You can stop rewriting. Honest, it doesn’t take any special medicine or lobotomy.

But it does take two things. You must first stop writing sloppy and instead care to do the best you can with what you are writing.  And secondly, you must believe in yourself and your own storytelling ability. In other words, grow an artist backbone.

Just keep on walking.

The adventure really is ahead of you. Don’t waste a moment turning around and moving backward. Life is far, far too short.

And the walk ahead far too much fun to never reach.



  • Sean Monaghan

    Cool metaphor. When I’ve had conversations with writers I’ve sometimes used a tennis metaphor – Venus Williams never practices sloppy because she can fix it later: she always practices the best she can. And I’m counting her tournament matches as practice too. Not a perfect analogy, and I.suspect that it makes more sense to me than the poor sloppy-writer I’m conversing with, but at least when I do it’s a reminder for me 🙂

  • Vera Soroka

    I think some of these rewriters should go over to the 20 to 50k facebook page. Their is a gal there that would leave these rewriters in the dust. Her name is Yumi and she’s a fellow Canadian author. In her first year she produced 26 books and never rewrote any of them while working full time as a RN nurse in a big Toronto hospital. It was shift work too with long hours. She said I write what I want to write the first time. She gives it to her betta readers or as she calls them her alpha readers to find her typos or anything that is not right. Then an editor. I’m not sure what this editor is though. Might be a copyeditor. Then out they go and on the to the next. She never looks back at her work once done. Like she said. I wrote what I wanted the first time. Now she working full time and has nearly forty books out and is making a very good living at it. Last month she wrote five books and she is not a fast writer by any means she says. She writes in sprints of 25 minutes and takes breaks. She just writes for the 8 hours or sometimes 12. That’s it.
    The people over there of course love her and she is going to the conference next year. Some want Craig to get her to speak. I would love to hear her.

    • dwsmith

      Sounds all logical to me. She’s writing what she wants to write. Writing five novels in a month is not that difficult once you get out of your own way with the myths. It is just time spent in a chair.

      Example: I write 1,000 words per hour on average, finished clean copy. If I wrote for 8 hours a day I would do 8,000 words per day or about 240,000 words in a month. If my books averaged around a 40,000 word length, that would be six novels. Math works fine.

  • Philip

    Brilliant. Makes perfect sense. This post needs to reappear in one of your non-fiction books on writing.

    Dean, I’m curious to get your opinion on a mental trick I’ve been trying lately to help jar myself of some of the myths. I’ve been handwriting stories lately and noticed I’m more productive. My feeling is I’m tricking my Critical Brain into going to sleep because he thinks I’m just having fun scribbling stuff instead of “really writing.” It’s as if, oh it’s in pen so it must not be “serious” writing. This has helped me finish stories. Granted, a writer isn’t going to make pulp speed with this method because it needs to be transcribed into Word later so it can be published, but what are your thoughts on this method?

    • dwsmith

      Philip, no opinion at all. Whatever is fun and produces finished stories on a regular basis and stays in creative voice. I used to do that method in my rewriting days, but then I always rewrote the story when I typed it in, so it got hurt in the process. But if it works, let it work until it doesn’t.

  • Robert J. McCarter

    This a really good metaphor, Dean.

    To extend it a bit, being prolific isn’t about walking fast, it’s about spending more time walking (and having your time while your walking count).


  • Janine

    Exactly. The fact that many of the rewriters use a bunch of flawed metaphors to justify rewriting the same story over and over is boggling to me. Then again, they usually just rush the 100 miles and skip a bunch of stuff to get it done and look forward to the rewriting as their favorite part of the writing process. They hate drafting, so they tell people, even if they have problems in a certain chapter is to sloppy write and finish it and fix it in rewrites. Problem is that sloppy chapter will make your foundation collapse and oops, months of work down the drain because you didn’t address the problem when it first showed up. Best thing to do sometimes is to start over, even if you’re 20K in on an otherwise decent manuscript. Better to lose two weeks of work than two months.

  • Phillip McCollum

    Great post, Dean. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from the author Trevanian:

    “You can gain experience, if you are careful to avoid empty redundancy. Do not fall into the error of the artisan who boasts of twenty years experience in craft while in fact he has had only one year of experience–twenty times.”

  • Jason M

    But sometimes you accidentally drop your wallet, and you have to go back to retrace your steps.

    That’s how much rewriting I allow myself. Just enough to find the wallet.

    (Dean, I know you HATE this, but it’s true — once in a while us mere mortals make mistakes in plotting and have to go back and change an earlier chapter or two.)

    • dwsmith

      Jason, I do that all the time and it’s called cycling (read my book or the articles on Writing into the Dark here on this blog) if you go back while in the first creative draft to fix issues that pop up. If you wait until the end of the 100 miles and then go back, that’s called rewriting.

      And not sure why you think I am not a regular writer like everyone else. I just have gotten out of the myths and most haven’t. Only difference. So not sure what the mere mortal insult was all about to be honest.

        • dwsmith

          Jason, I can’t remember my own name half the time. So nope, don’t remember. Sorry.

          I just bristle at the idea of younger writers using the excuse that they can’t do something that I can do because I am “special” in some fashion or another. I am friends with hundreds and hundreds of major professional writers and trust me, there isn’t jack special about any of us. We just love telling stories and making stuff up and we know business enough to get paid for what we do.

          And every long term writer I knows hates, and I do mean hates, the idea that they are special and can do something others can’t. That instantly puts down and diminishes all the time and learning and years of practice we have all done. And that is why I call comments like that insulting, because they actually are. And in twenty years, you will find them insulting as well when some younger writer diminishes what you have done by simply saying you are “special.”

          What makes me different is that I call writers on the comments. Other major writers just short of shake their collective heads and ignore the comment.