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Thursday, March 03, 2011

To Revise Or Not To Revise

There's a very interesting discussion happening on one of my author loops about how much revising to do to backlist titles where the rights have reverted to the author before putting them up in eBook format. And being writers, the topic split off into multiple directions. :-)

One conversational path was the technology issue. Some of these authors have contemporary romances or mysteries written in the 1980s and a cell phone changes a lot. There were authors who updated for the new tech and some authors who didn't. They made mention in the front that the book was originally published in 1980-something and left it at that.

It was the second direction in which the conversation veered that has me thinking. Should an author revise her story to fix the writing?

A writer should be pushing herself with each project, learning more with each story and that means the writing should be improving. The difference between later books is smaller than on earlier stories because there's more room for improvement, but there still should be growth.

This made me think of my first book, Ravyn's Flight. I have a really strong memory of moaning to a group of online friends that I wished I could rewrite it because I was a much better writer now. This would have been around 2003/2004 because I know I'd finished The Power of Two and I learned a lot writing that book.

An author on the board, one who's been published for many years, asked me a question: Did you do the best job you were capable of doing when you wrote the book?

Of course I did. I throw myself heart and soul into every story I write and I always strive to do the best work I'm capable of doing. I also tend to be a perfectionist, so I nitpick a lot at my work and always find more to pick at every step of the way.

So this author said, if you did the best you could, then you have to accept that your writing is better now and move on.

I took her advice and didn't spend much time after that looking in the rearview mirror. That work was in print and I had no way to go back and fix it even if I wanted to. Only now I have the rights back to my first four books and I'm going to either resell the rights or put them up in eBook format or something. Which has me thinking hard--what do I fix?

In books 2-4, I don't think I'd do much. I do know I'd tweak the language some, but while they're a little wordier than I write now, I don't feel any compelling need to rewrite them. And then there's Ravyn's Flight.

There are little things I'd do there, too, of course. There are things that happened between when I turned the book in and when I saw the galleys (test prints of the book where few changes are allowed) that I didn't do and I didn't like. For example, the two sentences that became one clunky, run-on sentence or the line I really liked that had a few words cut out of it, which left it a shadow of what I'd intended. But that's little stuff.

If I was writing RF now, it would be different. Maybe drastically different. Is that a can of worms that I want to open?

Part of me would love to take that story apart and put it back together again. I am a better writer, a better storyteller now.

Part of me thinks I shouldn't do more than the little tweaks no matter what. It isn't just tightening up the writing, I'd probably end up changing plot stuff and that impacts story and character. I'm not sure I want to go there. I've heard from so many readers who've told me how much they love the story. What if the changes I make ruin the book for them? And do I really want to create a drastically different version of my first book?

At the moment, I'm leaning toward no. The book was the best I could write at the time that I worked on it. Maybe that needs to be enough.