Frustrating Inconsistencies

Writers rewrite, over and over, until the story is ready – in a manner of speaking. All professional writers know this. But here’s the frustrating part: Why do rewrites continue to have inconsistencies?

The first draft is often plagued with them, which is why I can never show my first draft to anyone. It’s for my eternal embarrassment (when I look back afterwards) and that’s how I’d like to keep it. But second, third or any number of drafts thereafter continue to have new inconsistencies popping up. I’ve given this some thought and here’s my take on it. Say I show my second draft to a writers group for feedback, I expect a lot of tut-tuts and heads shaking from side-to-side when they point out something as obvious as: So the protagonist is 24 years old but, let me get this right, she has a son who just went to MIT?

Ouch. How could I have not seen it? After rereading and re-editing my own work, how does it slip by?

Breakdown

It is said that it takes about 10 years or 10,000 hours to master a craft. Let’s think about this for a moment.

1 year = 8760 hours, so 10 years = 87600 hours (exempting leap years)

If we take the time to sleep and/or rest as 8 hours a day, and the average work time of 8 hours a day, then that’s two-thirds a day, which leaves us with 8760/3 = 2920 hours a year. Of course, we have to eat, socialize, have fun, workout, pursue hobbies etc. I suppose that leaves us with about a 1000 hours a year to commit wholeheartedly to a craft… like writing.

So 10 years it is. Well I’ve been learning & studying the craft, writing, critiquing, reviewing, editing for 5 years… I guess I still have some way to go. It does get easier though, with experience. First drafts do have less flaws and successive rewrites improve drastically with continuous practice. This I can vouch for.

Objectivity

But it’s not just statistics. The other challenge is being too close to my own work.

Being involved in the process and the changes makes it hard to be objective. And this coming from someone who believes he is quite objective when the situation calls for it. I often have to leave a story for a while after discovering new inconsistencies, which occur in the current draft. Further reflection hints that these new inconsistencies are based on major changes or new sections added to the story. Naturally, not everything falls into place. I have to make it all work together.

Passion = Work

So where does this leave me? Well, I look forward to another 5,000 hours of mastering the craft of writing, bashing my head in frustration when writers point out the most obvious slips (while I’m thinking of what a great metaphor I came up with), being patient between rewrites so I have time to be objective and clear-headed again, and finally, rewrite the story until I have nothing new to add; just changes to get rid of inconsistencies.

Samir

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13 thoughts on “Frustrating Inconsistencies

  1. Robert Frost said that his poems were never really finished, just abandoned. I am one of those writers who needs to go back and do many drafts before I am satisfied. It is a process that I enjoy, probably too much, as my first novel took seven years from beginning to publication! You are right about finding readers with a critical eye. I am not a sensitive writer–I welcome any advice or suggestions that will help me make my book better. Great post. And thanks for stopping by my blog and following Writing Between the Lines!

    1. That’s a great saying!

      Really, you actually enjoy the rewriting process? Wow, I don’t think I know many people who’d say that, myself included. I have too many story ideas that I want to explore and write about, sometimes the ‘abandoned’ story drives me nuts until its completed – mainly because it feels at that moment like an obstacle to my next project. Well, I guess that’s what I get for being an impatient person 😀

  2. Loved the post! Just a little advice though… don’t bash head in too much it might hinder your ability to write!

    But yeah I’ve experienced all the above in my own projects. Your first sentence caught me hook, line, and sinker, “Writer rewrite over and over until the story is ready–” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  3. Thank you for this post. I am new to writing and no one apart from family and freinds have seen anything so far. It is good to know that I am not alone in seeing inconsistancies even after several attempts. Can you say some more about being objective? I am not part of a writers group. I don’t want anyone to tell me it is rubbish or I might give up and I get a lot out of the process. I think my writing is ok for me. Family and freinds tell me it is great. I am not confident and my entourage are too nice.

    1. Kerry, I understand where you’re coming from. With objectivity, I mean that for some writers it is necessary to wait a while between rewrites (either between each draft or after several drafts) because the writer needs time to sort of forget every detail and nuance of that particular story. The best thing to do if you happen to need such pauses is work on another story. Then, when you come back to the first one you were working on, you’ll have refreshed eyes and spot inconsistencies or any other thing not working in the story. Whether setting, character, plot etc has a problem, it doesn’t matter, as long as you spot it and fix it for your next rewrite.

      This is not a universal process. There are writers who can achieve a well written story in a few drafts (where other take many drafts). There are writers who can have a first draft with no inconsistencies (where others are full of them). What matters is pushing through and seeing it to the end. Keep practicing and working hard and you’ll achieve the result you want, you’ll even require less drafts the more experience you gain through practice.

      As for family and friends, I also started out showing my work to them only about five years ago and quickly realized there was something wrong when all I’d hear is: ‘what a great story’, ‘nice work, you’re a natural’ etc. Then I’d sit to look at the story and notice things didn’t make sense, I knew something was wrong- they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. While this was nice, if I wanted to be a writer, I wasn’t going to get anywhere with that! I signed up to a writers workshop and started learning the craft. Then I looked for writing groups that would be a good fit for me. Yes, it’s scary! But writers are the only ones who can give you constructive criticism to help your story. They’re doing the same thing as you and also require the same criticism, they’re you’re equals.

      Any writer that attacks you and not your work is not worth himself to be called a writer. Avoid these people and groups that have such people (note that this rarely happens though). But otherwise, it’s a wonderful experience after the initial fright.

      Hope this helps. Keep writing 😀

      1. Thank you very much for your reply and your kind encouragement.

        I need to be brave and let someone see my work otherwise I will never know. I know that thousands of people would like to write. The first step is knowing if you have it in you, if it is any good. I will do it. If my writing is only good for me as a hobby then at least I have that.

        You have been very helpful. I will be in touch when I have taken a deep breath.

  4. Certain problems are always going to be with you. What I’ve figured out is that objectivity is the most important part of revision. And that’s something you have to deliberately cultivate. It takes time, but it gets easier as it goes along.

    I also wonder, from what you just said, and what I’ve read of other’s experiences with writing groups, whether that isn’t part of the problem. Changes that you make in response to suggestions from other people are less likely to be consistent with the story than what arises naturally from it.

    1. Yes, true. Objectivity is vital. With me, time between rewrites makes my objective eye stronger and more focused.

      As for writing groups, they are important for the early drafts, at least for me. A good writing group with a moderate number of participants whom each have a different strong point can help detect the flaws and inconsistencies in a story. Of course, it’s still the author’s story to do with as he/she pleases. And there has to be a point where the author no longer changes anything in the story but simple corrects what is there.

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