Something really familiar here:
This week I rewrote part of the plot of my book. I had a great idea that would make the book deeper, improve character, explore the world! Best of all it didn’t require me re-plotting major elements or the ending, while it made the ending more powerful. It’s just I didn’t want to do it. I had this gut-level resistance to re-plotting. In retrospect it was a dumb attitude to take, and I think it was just that I don’t like to change plans. I always fear things will never get done.
Steve and I have talked about the different ways we assemble and rework our projects, and one thing that struck me is that I tend to do a lot of the most aggressive throwing-out-and-starting-over pretty early on. I do a lot more arguing with myself in that stage about what belongs and what doesn't, and in what form. The end result is that I have first drafts that are more like someone else's second or third.
The downside to such an approach is something Steve touches on here: it's easy to get complacent with what you have, especially if you have baked into it something that really doesn't help.
A key insight that has emerged during the second draft phase of Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned is how I had a tendency to over-explain certain things, to over-immerse. Some scenes are just way too long and to a totally circular purpose, and I've psyched myself up to cut them down, to make them serve the story more than they serve themselves.
Some of my own resistance to this kind of cutting has roots in the feeling that I need to trust myself, that I put things there for a reason and shouldn't just meat-cleaver willy-nilly. But much of the time that is less a reason than a rationalization.
The same goes with that feeling Steve described of not wanting to change plans, something I've felt myself many times. I don't like the idea of endlessly rewriting the same story. Too many people I know are still parked in that particular underground garage, idling the engine, instead of pulling out and really going somewhere. But avoiding such a dead end requires making decisions, sometimes grim ones, and sticking with them.
To wit: At one point when writing Flight of the Vajra — in the first draft, mind you — I abandoned several thousand words and backed up a fair distance in the story so that I could explore what seemed a far more fruitful plotline than the one I had cul-de-sac'd in. Better to turn around than to keep fighting against odds I hadn't a chance of bucking. It meant losing several days worth of work, but when you put faith in the process rather than the resulting artifacts, those hard decisions aren't so hard anymore.
Something that serves me well throughout all of these efforts is to always and everywhere cultivate as far as possible a sense of coming to this work for the first time, every time. It isn't possible to do that to the extent that total strangers will do it, but one must lean that way.
As Robert Rauschenberg put it, in a quote I am still exhausting the possibilities of: "I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I'm doing."
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind