Monday, March 1, 2010


"[T]o shape a personal vision requires revisiting a subject over many images to create a more focused and particular view."

This quote comes from an essay by photographer Sze Tsung Leong called "A Picture You Already Know." Leong was referring to the practice of working in series, but I think this quote also applies well to matters of writing. Our vision, the reason we write, rarely appears fully formed with one try. We're bombarded by the work of other writers, by education, by the publishing industry to be anybody other than our true selves. To find or re-find our vision may require several attempts, either in the form of revisionary drafts, or perhaps in the form of multiple stories that all strive to do the same thing.

For myself, I find that with each story I write I'm defining a set of themes that are important to me. And, I sometimes wonder--since my first completed novel has gone so far astray from the initial inspiration--if it would be worthwhile to try and write the story again, creating something new, and perhaps better shaping my personal vision.

How do you feel about revisiting a subject matter or story? Do you think there's something to gain from it?


  1. Your question is whether it would be worthwhile to write it again. If you define "worthwhile" to mean "able to sell it", then I would say probably not. But if your purpose is to gain a deeper insight into the topic that you are more interested in, then I say yes by all means.

    I spend a lot of time writing and rewriting, redefining my goal as I go. I write for myself, but on the way, I hope to write something that has meaning to somebody else.

  2. It's easy to go astray as we complete a draft of a work, whether it's the first draft or the fourth. I've heard that "real writers re-write" and I know from personal experience that each time I've started over, the work improved from the fresh perspective.

    Whether you take on that task for a particular WIP depends on your available time and your goal for that work...personal edification, or publishing potential?

  3. Davin, I'm left wondering which novel you are speaking of to rewrite/revisit.

    Actually, now that I think of it, I've completely rewritten two of my completed novels, and if I were to work on the third one (written nearly 12 years ago), I'd have to rewrite it as well. I don't know if any of this is because I changed between the time of writing the novels and then polishing them up, or if I'm just unhappy with anything I churn out.

    I agree with Bailish, though. I think that you need to define what "worthwhile" means here in your post.

    I've found, also, that each time I rewrite a work my vision of it changes from the original vision I had. And it's usually a better vision. I don't know where I'm going with all that, but there you go.

  4. It's essential for us as writers, I think. I recently pulled out my novel that I hadn't looked at since last summer and was amazed at how much work needed to be done. Fresh eyes and all of that, I suppose.

  5. Last year (oh, gosh, has it been that long?) I revisted a project I had written a few years ago. For whatever reason, everything clicked in the new vision of the project - tons of stuff stayed the same, btw. So, I think the revisit was a good idea and I really like the changes I made which really make the story more complete, and believable.

    Now, my epic fantasy project that I worked on for years and years, some great world building and characters . . . well, not sure if I want to revisit that, but you just never know.

    Sometimes, we don't fully nurture our ideas the first few go arounds of a project. Sometimes, we need some distance - months, years, decades maybe - to gain the proper perspective to really tell the story we want to tell.

    Great post.


  6. Bailish, rarely will I mean "able to sell it." :) That's interesting what you say about redefining your goal. By that, I wonder if you mean that the goal becomes more focused, closer to what you originally had in mind, or if it becomes different from that.

    Rick, with my last novel, I just know that the subject matter that inspired me was basically gone by the time I "finished" my book. Though I like the story now, I still feel like that original idea has been left unmined, and I wonder if this is an opportunity to try again.

    Michelle, Then I guess for you, on that last point, you see the evolution of your idea as a good thing. That's something I think about a lot. I wonder what would have happened to Rooster if I had stuck more to what originally interested me about it.

    Tess, I wonder, though, what you think about say writing another book about the same subject matter your last book was about. I wonder if people would see a benefit to that.

    Scott, I definitely know that feeling. It was amazing to me that in the fifth year of working with Rooster I finally "got" it. I finally saw something in it that I had never noticed before. It was very satisfying.

  7. I feel there are common aspects in a lot of stories I write (somewhere, there's a Freudian going, you should spend some time on a couch and figure out what those means), but the common aspects generally aren't themes or motifs. Each story, I find, is too different to have a ton in common with the other works.

  8. Would it be worthwhile to try and write the story again, creating something new, and perhaps better shaping your personal vision? Uh, yeah! "Cocke & Bull" is, in some ways, a sort of reimagining of a novel that didn't work, written about 15 years ago. The new ideas I have for "Horatio" are really exciting and bring me closer to my original impulse for writing that book. And, you know, there is nothing but good that comes from writing.

    As for Bailish's comment, most novels written won't be sold, so by that criteria hardly any book is worth writing. I'm not sure what "redefining my goal" means.

  9. As a photographer/writer (or photo journalist) I completely understand your thought here. I believe in the concept of revisiting an idea, no matter what subject - photography, writing, designing, etc. Some of the most brilliant ideas in the world are not formed overnight, after all.

  10. I think starting over can be the best way to proceed sometimes. It can be scary to throw out something you spent a long time doing, but maybe the first time through was just practice. I don't know that this is what you really need to do, but I know it can work.

  11. The reason why I write isn't fully formed yet after many tries or many stories.

    I think I will revisit a story put back long ago about my Irish heritage. I started it and never even really finished it. Now I want to do it for MG. And I redo it this year sometime. That would be a cool thing to read at my fiction slam.

    There is always something to be gained, by revisiting things in life Davin. And you couldn't find a better place to revisit than one of your stories. =)

    BTW, thank you, thank you for last week and The Sturge-Weber Foundation thing. I really am grateful for your friendship. For so many reasons too numerous to count. =)

  12. Davin,
    I have now completed four novels, and with each one my vision about the novel changed by time I finished it. One could state that this results from having had a badly formed idea about the book in the first place. I suggest it happened also because the process of writing the novel changed me in the interim. When I start a novel or short story, I usually start out with a set of characters needing resolution about a specific issue. As the characters come to life, they may chart a trajectory quite different than I had expected. In the process, I am sometimes led to startling insights about not just my fictional world but also about my real one. Then there is the process of reader feedback. My short story “Asunder” is a case in point. One of the Literary Lab readers commented about all the sharp edges (knives, scissors, etc.) she found in the story. That made me aware of a theme I had not been conscious of previously. When I examined the story from her perspective, it became a brand new story for me. Had the story not already been published by you, that might have led me into a fresh revision of the story around the theme of the imbedded sharp edges. So writing fiction is a very dynamic process incorporating many levels of input, internal and external, present and past, experiential and theoretical et al. That’s part of what makes writing so much fun for me.

  13. Dominique, interesting points, and as I think more about my own work, I agree. I do have some common themes, but there are also smaller similarities: symbols and details, things like that.

    Scott, I feel like I have a finished book in Rooster, and I'm also tempted to write another book based on the same inspiration to see where it goes. I think it would be an interesting experiment.

    Erin, I think as we are developing as writers it's very important to remember that our best ideas probably take time. They're probably evolving now, whether we know it or not. I always get a thrill at imagining myself 20 years in the future, to see how my writing will have changed.

    Lois, I think that sometimes there is reason to throw out a practice run. But, other times, I think we can also keep that first trial and then create a second work based on the same original idea.

    Robyn, I actually just finished a draft of a story that has been on my mind for years. Previous attempts to write it have all failed, but last night, I think it was finally ready. And, you're more than welcome. I really appreciate your friendship as well.

    Judith, you make excellent points. I do think I change through the experience of writing. That's one of the most exciting things about getting to the end of a story for me!


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