So a fellow writer asked about the urge to change things in your book once it's published, and since I have just published IRKADURA (Yes! It's done! Here! I'm still working with Stuart on free files, so hang tight...), I have brushed with this terrible beast whilst scanning through my book after my editor has sent me the final final version. I have read that final final file and ended up cutting out 1K more words. As if this was not enough, I stumbled on a mind-blowing article by Chuck Palahniuk about "Thought" Verbs (the best advice about show-don't-tell you will ever read) and after reading it panic-edited another 100 words. I had to tie my hands with a barbed wire to make myself stop from changing anything else.
The book is done.
Once it's done, it's gone. Meaning, if you try to change anything in it, you will make it worse. It's not the matter of cutting out a word here and there. One word can change the fabric of the story. Why then are we so tempted to change things? I will tell you why. Because since the moment you wrote the book and up until the moment you have published it, a lot of time has passed. Months. And during those months you have grown. You have changed. You know how to write better, and when you look at your book, naturally, you want to apply those lessons.
Leave it be. It's part of who you were when you wrote it. At the same time, it's a good thing you want to change it. It means you have grown. It means you've learned things. And without learning things how can you become a better writer?
Part of the writing process is completing stories and glimpsing things from those stories, things you haven't seen before, things you've been blind to. That is why you have to finish any story you have started. And I don't mean finish it as in, you rewrite it to death over the course of 10 years. No, forget that. That story is dead. Let it go. Write fresh stuff. Write something new. Write it fast, while it's alive in your head, and finish it. FINISH IT. Only if you finish it, will you see things that you haven't been able to comprehend before.
It's like making shoes. Let's say you were a shoemaker. You labor over your first pair, you cut out the sole, you stitch together the leather parts, you glue it all where it is supposed to be glued, you're so deep in your work that you're completely absorbed. And then when you're done, when all the parts are put together, you look at it, and you cringe. It's hideous. The left show is larger than the right. It's crooked. It's ugly. It's wrong. Your impulse it to tear it apart and to remake it. And at first you do. Then you learn that by glueing and reglueing parts you make them stiffer and stickier, and the shape is just wrong, and, finally, you give up. You throw it all on the floor and decide to never try again. Or, you start a new pair and apply the lessons you have learned from the first failure. The beauty of starting new is...
YOU DON'T HAVE TO FIX YOUR OLD MISTAKES.
Fixing things is painful. We all know that. Rewriting is painful. Imagine this for a second. Imagine that instead of rewriting you could start fresh. Wouldn't that be nice?
Now, I want to take a step back here. I don't suggest that you do not rewrite anything at all. No. I want to show you that a story needs to stay alive while you're working on it, all the way until you have finished it. I think Stephen King said in ON WRITING (I think, maybe he said it somewhere else) that a story lives for about 3-4 months, maybe 6 months max. Okay, I hope these numbers are right. I can tell you from my experience that if my story stretches out for longer than 6 months, it is dead to me. SIREN SUICIDES, my first novel, took me 1 year to write, and it stretched into 3 books simply because I wrote it for too long. It was my first, and I didn't know that it was okay for me to stop. I kept going. I kept changing things until I got so tired of it, I couldn't look at it anymore.
The timing might be different for different people. The only way you will learn yours is by writing a lot of books. So, write them. Write, publish, write, publish. Once published, don't touch it. (I'm talking to indie writers here, obviously.) Move on. Write more. By completing each of these books you will learn more than by trying to fix them once they're out of your hands.
I have this itch about IRKADURA now. There are so many things I want to fix. And yet I know I shouldn't. It's done. It's gone. It's not mine anymore, it's my readers'. Anything I want to do differently I will do in CORNERS.
And to those of you who are doing NaNoWriMo this month, do not be tempted to change things or edit things until you're done with the first draft! Get the story down on paper, the whole story, from beginning to end, then you can make changes.