It’s happened to all of us. Something comes out of your mouth, and two seconds later you wish it hadn’t. This could apply to a variety of things, such as projectile vomit, but let’s focus on words. We wish we could take it back. We wish we could have said it better, or not said anything at all. Writers are in the unique position to be able to do just that—to edit, revise, re-release. They can take back their words, but just as taking back spoken word-vomit involves apology, guilt, and a small dose of self-loathing, so too does a do-over of anything written.
Why exactly is this? I’ve been wondering lately, as I’m currently in the process of fleshing out the second novel in The Company of Souls series. I’ve discovered that it’s going to require that the first novel change in large ways. At first this was exciting—hey, I get to have more fun with that book!—and then it was distressing. Not only is it more work, which goes without saying, but putting a halt on an already-published novel’s distribution channels felt a bit like waving a white flag in some cosmic battle. Add to this the realization that people have actually bought this book and will now have to buy it again if they want to keep up with the second one when it comes out, and you’ve got a nice healthy stew of guilt and frustration.
Why do we feel pressure to “get it right” the first time? This, as it turns out, is an unfounded, irrational feeling. Never mind the fact that it’s your story and therefore there isn’t a “right” other than whatever you decide….consider how many “editions” of books your favorite authors have released. Things get added, taken out, changed around, and that doesn’t mean that your beloved novels were “wrong” to begin with; it just means that their authors liked them enough to revisit their worlds and give them a bit more TLC.
Not only this, but the process of writing a new story may (as in my case) suddenly shed light on an older one or inspire you to return to it. Why is this so wrong? It isn’t, of course, but we writers tend to be tenuous, neurotic people underneath our literary poise and we beat ourselves up.
I suppose the take-away here is that if you are gifted with a fresh outlook on an old idea or you discover more about the story world that you already created, there is no need to feel badly about rereleasing if you have the power to do so and aren’t under the clutches of a publisher, agent, etc. already. There is no such thing as “getting it right,” and really no one to aesthetically please other than yourself. The cardinal rule of writing, in my opinion, is to write things that you would love to read. So if a story you love wants to grow and change, go ahead and let it.