iterations and emendations

I wander the wilds of the internet* and see all sorts of wondrous things, some of it edifying, some of it exasperating, some of it mystifying, much of it simply boring.

One little thing I saw recently that has taken up residence in one of the overlooked crannies of my mind is another writer’s rewriting routine. She said that each time she does a rewrite, she saves the prior version in case she wants to go back to use it again. I don’t know how many versions of her story she has saved as a result, but I know I couldn’t work this way.

I have three versions of my novel-in-endless-progress, The Sleep of Reason. The first is the original, first-person narrated draft. I was about three-quarters of the way through with writing that draft when I realized it needed to be recast in the third person, but I finished it anyway rather than try to restart without having the tale complete. I saved all of that, and it’s been unmolested since.

The second version I have is what I finished when I rewrote the entire 110,000+ words with the third-person narrator. When I got that done, I uploaded the whole of it to Google Documents for safekeeping. There it remains.

The third version I have is my current working draft, and here is where that other writer’s method would not work for me. I’ve been through this draft a half dozen times, and with each pass I make all kinds of uncounted changes. They may be as simple as changing a few words or tightening the occasional sentence, or they may involve the addition of new scenes or deletion of whole pieces that no longer belong. I have been known to open a chapter at random and start reading it, and I will inevitably fine something to change, often a few somethings.

Were I to save each draft before and after I made these manifold changes, I would have dozens of drafts on my hard drive. For me, the versions I have left behind are not worth going back to. The version I am working with is in a constant state of becoming. It is a living document.

Most likely, I have misunderstood that other writer’s meaning. I suspect she only saves prior drafts when she’s about to wreak major changes to her story, changes she won’t be able to tell if they work or not until she tries them. If she finds they don’t work, well, she still has her earlier draft to return to.

*   *   *

*For those of you who care, I’m eager for common usage to allow the word “internet” to be spelled without an initial capital.

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