To be able to improve the work enough to bring it to completion, I ended up having to ignore what had been written before--those early drafts--and rewrite the documents as if I were writing them on my own for the first time.
I won't get into the educational aspects of what I did now. (I do plan on going over these documents with the original writers in-person to try and turn this into a learning experience.) But, something I realized was that, in my original revisions, I had been led astray by some bad early drafts. Even though these drafts carried misinformation and exaggerations, I could not see the problems as clearly as I did when I started from scratch.
So, how does this impact my fiction writing? If you've been following our blog for awhile, you probably know I'm not a fan of the outline. I think that freewriting in the beginning is important for tapping into the subconscious, and I tend to write my early drafts without a clue as to where I'm going and what I'm trying to say. But, as I revise my own stories and the work of others, I'm realizing more and more that a bad first draft often serves as a trap that I can't get out of. Sometimes, the badness of my own writing feels permanent, and I can't free my mind enough to be able to re-imagine a better story.
Maybe this is a good thing. Capturing that original spark might bring some vitality to a piece. If I'm trying to tap into my subconscious, maybe I shouldn't then let myself re-imagine a story entirely. Still, I feel like there must be some compromise that can be made to allow both freewriting without finding myself stuck with only bad material.
In comes quantity and quality. If I'm going to approach a story using the freewriting approach, I am realizing that I need to ensure that I have enough of that fresh starting material to revise later. So, if I'm exploring an early idea, I shouldn't stop freewriting once I have just enough material to hold the story together. I should explore all of the different avenues of the topic, write about it to exhaustion, so that if I end up cutting one avenue completely, I still have others I can keep. Quality in a first draft is something I wouldn't have worried about at all even just a couple of months ago. But, I'm starting to realize that even if I'm a pantster, I need to slow myself down and at least make sure that I'm in the right mental state before I start pantsting--or whatever that verb is. I don't think I can just start writing about the stapler sitting beside my computer anymore. The source of that freewriting inspiration seems to matter.
Am I deluding myself here? Am I just feeling wounded from my weekend experience? For us pantsters, do we still need to at least plan a little before we start writing, or can we really free ourselves to drastically revise a story at any stage of the game?