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Rewriting When It's Godawful (1 Viewer)

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David K. Thomasson

Senior Member
Here's the situation: You have written a story...and it sucks. You like the general idea behind it, enough you don't want to just throw the whole thing away, but the problems are rife throughout ....
(5) Think more clearly about it.

Suppose a beta reader said of something you wrote: "It sucks. It's rife with problems." Would you consider that to be helpful criticism? I wouldn't. I would want to know why it sucks. If it's rife with problems, tell me -- specifically -- what those problems are. Only when you've done the hard thinking of identifying the problems can you make an intelligent decision whether to repair the piece one problem at a time, or start over on a blank page, or chuck the whole project, etc.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
(5) Think more clearly about it.

Suppose a beta reader said of something you wrote: "It sucks. It's rife with problems." Would you consider that to be helpful criticism? I wouldn't. I would want to know why it sucks. If it's rife with problems, tell me -- specifically -- what those problems are. Only when you've done the hard thinking of identifying the problems can you make an intelligent decision whether to repair the piece one problem at a time, or start over on a blank page, or chuck the whole project, etc.

“It sucks. It's rife with problems" coming from a beta reader with no clear direction is different than a self-evaluation. I'd presume that if he thinks it's worth revisiting, he's going to do the "hard thinking" required to fix it.

6) Think more clearly about THAT. :)
 
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David K. Thomasson

Senior Member
I'd presume that if he thinks it's worth revisiting, he's going to do the "hard thinking" required to fix it.
I wasn't alluding to what luckyscars would do. He asked others what they would do if their writing sucked and was rife with problems. The point of my reply was that no one could make an intelligent decision about how to proceed based on such empty description. You would have to do the hard thinking of identifying the problems first.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I wasn't alluding to what luckyscars would do. He asked others what they would do if their writing sucked and was rife with problems. The point of my reply was that no one could make an intelligent decision about how to proceed based on such empty description. You would have to do the hard thinking of identifying the problems first.

The same -- regardless of who it is. If someone thinks the writing sucks and is rife with problems, and they want to try and fix it, why assume they wouldn't do the hard thinking and identify the problems? Kind of a no-brainer. Are they going to just type aimlessly and hope for the best? :)
 

TheManx

Senior Member
That might have been a bit snarky. I mean, whatever it takes to keep people from putting their heads in the oven.
 

Olly Buckle

Mentor
Patron
The same -- regardless of who it is. If someone thinks the writing sucks and is rife with problems, and they want to try and fix it, why assume they wouldn't do the hard thinking and identify the problems? Kind of a no-brainer. Are they going to just type aimlessly and hope for the best? :)

Actually I would be more inclined to identify problem areas and avoid them rather than trying to fix them. 'That bit of the idea doesn't work, I'll leave it out and try writing it without it.' Trying to fix things can just complicate matters and make them worse quite often.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
Actually I would be more inclined to identify problem areas and avoid them rather than trying to fix them. 'That bit of the idea doesn't work, I'll leave it out and try writing it without it.' Trying to fix things can just complicate matters and make them worse quite often.


What? If you've already written the piece -- and you decide to avoid the problem and edit accordingly -- then you're fixing it.
 

Olly Buckle

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My experience of it when it is 'Godawful' is that there is insufficient basis for a rewrite and I am not so much fixing it as writing something new and rescuing some of the ideas, but I guess it's a matter of semantics in the long run.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
My experience of it when it is 'Godawful' is that there is insufficient basis for a rewrite and I am not so much fixing it as writing something new and rescuing some of the ideas, but I guess it's a matter of semantics in the long run.

Yep, to a degree. I'm hard on myself. So I might think something is "Godawful" -- but if I come back and look at it objectively, then sometimes I can see the concept is good, but the execution wasn't. The amount of editing or rewriting varies, of course.

This is all relative -- that's why context is important...
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
My experience of it when it is 'Godawful' is that there is insufficient basis for a rewrite and I am not so much fixing it as writing something new and rescuing some of the ideas, but I guess it's a matter of semantics in the long run.

Yep, to a degree. I'm hard on myself. So I might think something is "Godawful" -- but if I come back and look at it objectively, then sometimes I can see the concept is good, but the execution wasn't. The amount of editing or rewriting varies, of course.

This is all relative -- that's why context is important...

It is semantics but kind of an interesting question...

I didn't put much thought in initially to what I meant by 'godawful'. Now that I am, it is apparent to me that I have almost never written anything that I didn't think was 'godawful' at some point.

I have work that was, at some stage of its journey, such a source of existential anguish that I came this close to not only giving up that story but giving up writing entirely. Yeah, it happens. I still think a lot of my work is guano-on-a-plate.

Curiously, my opinion of my work seldom matches anybody else's. Some of the stories I've written that I really liked nobody else seemed to. Some of the stories I was like 'lol, nobody will want this absolute mess' ended up getting published.

I think that's probably my biggest source of motivation for getting done, honestly. It's this reality that actually writers are very poor self-critics, that often what we deem as colossal failure is really minor, or even not a failure at all. Basically, it's entirely possible, or even probable, for what we deem as 'godawful' to be the exact opposite.

Once you dispense with the idea that you know a damn thing about whether your writing is good or not...you can simply write according to your instincts and psychologically play the odds: "I hate this...but maybe I'm wrong."

I think I'm quite a poor writer, overall. I think most of my work wavers somewhere between total crap and middling crap with occasional sparks that are 'all right' and that whenever I write something people like it's a sheer accident, like an ape who managed to bash out Twelfth Night on a typewriter. I think that's a perfectly healthy and constructive view to have toward one's work.

It does lend itself to some problems sometimes, especially when you feel the negativity being reinforced, but, on the whole, I would rather be tepid toward my writing than be in love with it.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
To illustrate just how acute my dislike of my own work is: I have never read anything I have written in full. The snippets I have read, come with a massive dose of cringe. I have printed copies of my books on my shelf, all of them completely unopened.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
I wish I shared your predicament.

Honestly, it's not really a predicament, Eternal.

(1) Read a lot to water your brain
(2) Write a bunch of shit that you feel like writing
(3) Edit it to remove that which is objectively and universally 'wrong' (i.e. SPAG, goofs)
(4) Rewrite it until you can't stand it anymore
(5) Submit it and see what happens

^ None of these steps involve self-critique as to whether something is 'good' or not. You may just surprise yourself.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Another important thing is to purge your brain of other people's styles. The absolute worst, most 'godawful' writing is that which is dishonest through attempting to ape a certain style or incorporate gimmicks. Good writing is just writing, just words without psychological gimmicks and shoehornery.
 

Terra

Senior Member
I’ve spent a few decades as a wannabe writer who didn’t write anything more than journaling and the occasional poem, telling myself that it was still considered writing (which it is). Thing is, that sort of writing was not fulfilling that deep desire inside me. When I finally acknowledged that and made writing a higher priority in my life, I started spitting out what I considered to be godawful pieces, riddled with writing atrocities ... but I didn’t give up and I didn’t throw anything away or burn anything ... although I did lose a terrible story (with promise) because the silly “free” writing program I was using crashed. I still hold a resentment to that program regardless of the story being crap and I have yet to go back and write it over.

It’s only been a handful of years since I started investing time and attention and energy into writing, and left the workforce last December to give even more effort to writing. When I sift through some of the stories, poems, essays and so on from five years ago, I see garbage ... BUT I also see a willingness to fulfill a desire to write no matter how raw and helter skelter my pieces were. The growth in five years is remarkable, and I see that in how and what I write now .... and that feels pretty damn good:) I continue to struggle with using the same tense throughout a piece and I tend to write passively, but in 2025 I wouldn’t be surprised if those challenges have completely disappeared.

My answer to the initial question in this thread is to keep everything ... if for nothing else, but to recognize the growth in being a writer. Oh and isn’t it Emily Dickinson whose poetry wasn’t even discovered until after she died, or at least a major chunk of it? For some reason, I feel that some of what I‘ve written and consider to be garbage will be used after I’m gone.
 

TheManx

Senior Member
I didn't put much thought in initially to what I meant by 'godawful'. Now that I am, it is apparent to me that I have almost never written anything that I didn't think was 'godawful' at some point.

I figured it was hyperbole. It should go without saying that you're probably not going to go back and rework something if you don't think there's something worth salvaging.

And yeah, at some point I always think it's shit. It's cliche. It's boring, etc. etc. Sometimes it's true to some degree. Sometimes it's a kind of light paranoia. :)

Maybe some people can avoid it, but I can't imagine doing anything worthwhile and creative without going through some phase of self-doubt -- or even thinking, what the hell are you doing? Take up another hobby. :)

You have to be hard on yourself, to dig deep, be self-aware. To me, that's how you fix things and improve overall.
 

Olly Buckle

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Patron
There Are various sorts of 'Godawful'for me

Godawful. The basic idea simply not good enough to make a story, it's never going to work, there is no oomph in it, or it is simply not believable.

Godawful. There is something in it, but it needs more than that to make it work.

Godawful. The basic idea is not bad, but I wrote that in a hurry, it's all the wrong way round and mixed up. My reasons are coming after the event, stuff like that, I need to think it through.

Godawful. The story is good , but it is full of basic mistakes like four sentences in a row starting 'Then ...' It needs a really good edit.


There is usually something salvable in the first, but it will possibly only be an appealing phrase or a character I can use in another story. The others I'll try and work with. And yes, I have written some stories and thought 'Yes, that's good, that's all right', it is only when I come to look at it later that I think 'That's Godawful, really needs tidying up'.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
I think that pretty much every first draft can be considered godawful - but if it has good bones you can pull it together. However, if the author didn't do their up front work before starting in on the writing, and the work is rife with plot holes, inconsistencies, and just meanders all over the place without any sort of conclusion - I'd suggest trunking it and starting over.
 
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