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Retcons, retcons and more retcons

December 7, 2013

Or: why a chaotic first draft is nothing to worry about.

I’ve been having an…interesting time with my WIP lately. Just as I was starting to get my head around the last big change I made to my plotline, a second has come along and reared its head. This change, if anything, will necessitate even more rewriting than the last one did, which is really saying something. Nonetheless, I’m already at the stage where I can’t really imagine my WIP without the change in question. It’s as though my story should have been this way all along and that I’ve only now started to realise it.

Much rewriting, then, is sure to follow.

Something I expect I'll be using a lot. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Something I expect I’ll be using a lot. Source: Wikimedia Commons

If my current progress is any indication, more such retcons can be expected before my first draft is finally done with. Each and every one, of course, will make more work for me when I start on the subsequent drafts. At this point, I don’t expect this project to be completely finished until next winter at the very earliest – and that’s assuming that I have my first draft done before the end of this year, as I’m currently predicting. Given that I first started outlining the story almost a year ago, that is…rather slow.

However, I have every reason to believe that my future projects will be a lot faster. And if you’re finding yourself in a similar position, then so should you.

The fact of the matter is that I still don’t have much writing experience. I don’t yet have a feel for what works and what doesn’t where writing novels is concerned – I haven’t been doing this anywhere near long enough for that – and so a smooth first draft can hardly be expected. On the contrary, I think it entirely natural to want to make alterations and improvements as I become more engrossed in the world I’m writing in. I may be making more work for myself in the short term, but I’m sure that the final result will be more than worth it.

As I continue to write, learn and gain experience, my WIPs should start to progress in a much faster and hiccup-free way. In the meantime, I’m just going to embrace the chaos that is the writer’s learning process – and so should everyone else, if they haven’t already.


From → Writing

  1. captainwafflez permalink

    It would be much more concerning if your first draft had NO hiccups! Hiccups mean that you care about your plot and about your characters enough to get it right.

    Cool post! The ‘delete’ key is my good friend.. it makes space for better stuff.


    • Thanks! That’s a very nice way of looking at things; the next time I run into issues, I’ll be sure to remember it 🙂

  2. Everyone is different, but in general your drafts should improve and come more smoothly as you gain experience– except, of course, when they don’t and you labor like a fishing boat in a typhoon, praying the next chapter doesn’t swamp you. This can happen to anybody, and can vary greatly from book to book. Even George R.R. Martin admits that some of his books are absolute biotches (might help if he didn’t make them longer than the Bible) and he’s one the best professionals around.

    A couple of points–

    Don’t get lost in your retcons– some are necessary, but you always run the risk of losing your energy for the story if you overindulge.

    Yes, embrace the chaos– it’s normal and sometimes out of it comes glorious writing.

    Good luck.

    • Well, that’s the plan (the first part, anyway ;)). I always find it quite reassuring that the people at the top still have issues at times; it makes it seem a lot more acceptable for novices like myself to run into problems.

      Good point on the issue of too many retcons. I’m hoping not to make any others on the scale of my last one – that one was huge – and I’m close enough to the end that I shouldn’t be able to make too many more. I’d rather not run out of energy on this piece: I reckon I’ve come too far with it to give up now.

      Thanks for the good wishes; I think I’m going to need that luck. Good luck to you too.

  3. Each of my novels taunts me afterwards with the illusion that it was ‘out there’, in finished form, simple and clear, just waiting to be written down. But the false trails and clunky writing are always hard to see, accept, analyse, cure as I go.
    Experience makes it easier to see, accept, analyse, cure, but only because I now have a few hiccup remedies to try, and because hiccups have stopped in the past so I trust they will again. I take it a step at a time, cheering myself with faith that today’s insoluble problem will provoke my imagination to raise its game. Think hard, then don’t think for a while: a eureka will come.
    It takes a lot of imagination to create a whole fictional world, people it with 3D characters we care about and give them a page-turning story; there are bound to be hiccups. It isn’t out there, simple and clear; it all has to come from you and your hiccups.
    A friend and fellow writer once said he thought that, in every ‘ambitious’ book, the writer has wrestled (not always successfully) with some kind of technical problem, and it is that which makes the book interesting and worthwhile. Ambition is relative, of course. We start out wrestling kindergarten problems. We progress to tougher challenges that still may be a doddle to many writers. But my friend has a point. When a writer is published and acclaimed, but then stops setting him/herself tougher problems and produces a book every year, do those books start to read like potboilers?

    • Good to hear that these kinds of problems are expected; makes me feel a lot more confident that I’ll eventually manage to do this :D.

      I hope I’m able to develop some of those remedies eventually. At the moment, the only one I know is to simply bulldoze onwards and hope the solution presents itself later. This is probably making things about as clunky is possible; it would probably be interesting tocompare my current draft to, say, my fifth once I get that far along. I imagine they’ll be unrecognisable from one another.

      I very much agree with your comment on eurekas. Both of my big ones have come while I wasn’t actively thinking about the book: the first happened in the shower, as already mentioned, and the second happened while I was the office. I still love moments like that; I’ve probably said this before, but I reckon they’re the best part of the whole process.

      Oh, and if my experiences with James Patterson and Simon Kernick are anything to go by, I’d say the answer to your question is “yes”, sadly.

      Thanks for stopping over, as ever. Hope things are well over on your end 😀

  4. Always a pleasure to read your blog, Nick 🙂 Things okay here. Much reworking needed on no.4, which I’m leaving to lie while I read through no.3. I thought it was more or less polished and ready, but I’m making changes on every page, and feeling good about that, not cast down. It’s great how easy it is to spot and cure problems in an ms I haven’t looked at for the best part of a year.
    Sounds like you’ll be celebrating your first complete ms soon!! Well done!!!

  5. It sounds like you’re making good progress, even with the hiccups and retcons (which, by the way I had to look up. lol). Good luck! 😀

    • You won’t be the only one; it seems that word is a lot less well-known than I thought it was :D. Thanks for the good wishes; getting close to finishing now!

  6. Being selfish for a moment, I get a lot of encouragement from posts like these and the encouragement that follows in the comments. Lots of sage advice and it makes me feel happy that I’m not alone with the doubt – not just with writing skills but with the technical elements as well.
    I’d also say – don’t knock your own experience! You say you don’t have much writing experience, but it’s obvious from your other posts you have a wealth of reading experience. Don’t forget that. I often think that’s what my subconscious is doing when I’m not thinking about my WIP. It’s knitting it together and reviewing it based on all those books I’ve read in my past. Then somehow it finds something from that experience that makes it work. Recently when I’ve been struggling with something – unsure about whether it works at that point in the story, or at all – I’ve grabbed a book off my bookshelf. One that has similarities to the type of situation I’m writing about. Found just perusing the pages gives me ideas of how to make it work, or whether to get rid of it.
    But, as you know I’m still tinkering with the mechanics of my story (way behind my schedule thanks to day-job yet again going absolutely ballistic. Sigh). So don’t listen to me 😉

    • Glad to hear! I think pretty much ever writer doubts at some point; for that matter, I reckon it’s the ones who don’t that have the lowest chances of actually getting anywhere.

      Also, thank you very much for your kind words. That said, I’m not sure how much reading experience I really have. I read a fair amount nowadays, but I only started doing that fairly recently. The way I see it, I’m still making up for lost time 🙂

      Hope the day job settles down soon. Are you getting any time off for Christmas?

      • Yeah, off now until 30th. Some quiet time with the family, as kids and wife have been a bit neglected due to day job as well. Really looking forward to it (although I’m pretty certain by day 2 I’ll be itching to go type up WIP thoughts ;-)). Have a good break yourself.

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