How Acceptable Are Rewrites?

This is an entirely hypothetical question, since my serial is still too young to even think about rewrites! But I'm curious: how acceptable is it to get far into a serial and then rewrite and update the older installments and put them up on the site, in place of the old versions?


It's something webcomic artists do a fair bit and I was wondering if a similar practise exists for prose serials, too!


This is something I've been wondering about myself. Now that my story is into its second arc, I'm noticing a lot of things about the first one that do not make me happy.


My main reason for making the jump into serial writing was to avoid doing rewrites.


I'd struggled to write for 10 years, and where I'd written volumes as a young adolescent, my writing got shorter and shorter, until I found that I was struggling to get past a couple of pages. It was only in a University class (analysis of written language) that I clued into the fact that it had nothing to do with the product I was creating, and everything to do with my process. I'd go back and try to get the tone and atmosphere and wording of that first bit right and I'd keep working at it and working at it until I burned out and all of that initial burst of motivation was gone.


The way I see it, we have two sources of energy. Motivation and inspiration are what get us off the ground. We get that idea and we're excited by it. We sit down and we have that fantastic writing session. Couple that with the excitement of starting a new serial, and it's one of the more fun moments of writing. Just making it all happen.


But the bulk of writing is work. It's sitting down and getting from point F to point G. Putting in the manual labor of getting words on the page. In a way, it gets harder as you go, because you're burdened by the weight of all the previous lore and details.


If one doesn't get a lot of mileage out of their initial burst of inspiration, then they can easily find it a struggle from an earlier point, and that compounds itself.


All of this in mind, I feel that rewriting is something of a trap. Focus on writing forward, producing more content. If you rewrite now, you'll grow as a writer over the next year, and then you'll want to rewrite again. Save the big edits for the ebook release. Make writing yourself out of the little corners a challenge.


I partially agree with Wildbow. It is important to move forward. Figuring things out as you go is a huge part of serial writing. Problem solving, as well. This is also an incredibly useful mindset to have when you're not 100% sure about the text you're going to post. Maybe you're uncertain of a rule that you're about to establish or the direction it might lead you, but when you can suddenly say, "Welp! It's posted, so now it's canon! Whatever this leads to, I guess I'll just deal with it!" There's something liberating in that approach, and when the time does eventually come that you have to deal with the consequences of what you hastily wrote in the past, it can be a huge confidence boost when you successfully turn it into something interesting.


That's sort of the nature of serial writing. I do a lot of brainstorming, but I still end up having moments like that. I think it might be unavoidable, unless you just keep a ridiculously large backlog.


However, I do think that rewrites can be useful, especially for the first few chapters. The beginning of the story doesn't need to be amazing, but it should at least mediocre, up to the point where the story really starts to develop and come into its own. Finicky readers might not give a mediocre beginning a proper chance, but you shouldn't worry about them. They can be persuaded by other people's recommendations. Also, they're finicky, so they're jerks.


I would not advise rewriting the beginning just to retcon yourself out of a corner, but I <i>would</i> advise it if you see glaring problems in your old work. I'd also say that it depends on how long you intend to continue writing that same story. If you're going to move on to a new serial in a year or so anyway, then maybe don't worry about rewriting too much.


With that said, I've not done any rewrites on my own serial. I have, however, made a lot of tweaks, which have probably had a cumulative impact that is similar to a rewrite.


I recommend rewriting the early chapters after a few months of growing along with your serial. My rewrite of the first arc has increased reader retention throughout the first chapters from 40% to 90%. There are still many who drop out later, but I feel much better now that I don't have to blame myself for an awfully flawed start anymore.


Long story short: if you want to do it and think you'll feel better afterwards, do it.


Rewriting *is* something of a trap. That said, I'm considering doing it. :-)


When I started The Points Between I was strictly a past-tense writer. When I started Curveball I switched over to present tense sort of as a gimmick, because I was trying to emulate a comic book and all narration boxes have, 95% of the time, been written in some kind of present tense.


What I found since then was that writing in present tense has been -- in some situations -- immensely liberating.


So at one point in time I tried rewriting the prologue and first chapter for The Points Between in present tense, just to see what it felt like, and man it felt _good_. It was like I was hitting every mark I'd been aiming for in the first version, only missing, because I couldn't line up the shot. TPB in past tense was doing what I needed it to do, but not the way I wanted, and in present tense it seemed like it was.


So I've been considering converting it. I haven't committed to that, yet, but I'm still seriously thinking about it.


I think Wildbow's right, that rewriting or over editing can be dangerous, but the other's points about tweaking as you go along are true too. Writing is a skill and like any other, you put in the effort and practice, you get better. It's a rare serial that won't improve as it goes along. I've seen a number of works that would have been more appealing if the author had taken some time to go back and do a few touch ups. On the other hand, I've seen some that totally killed my interest by trying to reboot or something similar. I guess the trick is like most things that've been discussed here, find the balance that works for you. Just be careful not to go to either extreme. Serials are written in ink (or electronic impulses, whatever) not stone, but they have to be just that, serial. Don't neglect your forward progress for the sake of a better beginning.


I've gone back and touched up old chapters when I receive good feedback about them from readers that I think would be helpful to incorporate. I don't really do it on my own because I'd rather keep pushing forward; and also because a lot of times I don't really know what to do differently. I'm not a good judge of my own writing so at this point I just wait until readers bring things up to me.


I don't think rewriting is a good idea either. I'm Sure you've got a good reason for rewriting but you ought to consider the reason why you are writing a webserial. Can you picture, back in the day, the producers of Lost considering reshooting of the pilot and first five episodes instead of producing the next season? If I'd wish a finished and polished story, then I'd write it and proofread and edit and whatever, and eventually I'd submit. Submiting puts an end to the rewriting process, but there is no such thing as a "submit" when writing a serial.



(PS first message. Hello everybody)


Welcome Feidor :-)


Good idea or not, I'm still considering it.


Thank you, Fiona.


@ubersoft: sure, if you believe you are doing the right thing, go for it without hesitation. There is no formula for success.


I'll defend the idea of rewriting.


I got five books (~500,000 words or more) into my series before I stopped, and decided to do a major rewrite. There were plot threads that had been abandoned, characters that dropped off the map and never came back, elements of the story I wanted to tweak just a little, and characters that had developed far more than I had ever anticipated.


So, I figured a rewrite was the best way to go, so that I could then release ebook editions afterwards.


At first, I started trying to do a Book #1 rewrite, whilst starting on Book #6. This was an unmitigated disaster, and both suffered for it. I gave up on #6, and have been entirely focused on the rewrites ever since.


I'm halfway through the Book #3 rewrite at the moment, and I couldn't be happier with the output - even if I know I've lost some readers because of what I've done. It was better for the story, and better for the series moving forward.


It's an investment, and it's up to you whether or not you want to make it.


I more commonly see rewrites of COMPLETED serials while setting up for book publication more than rewrites of ongoing serials. Im going to actually scrap and rewerite my two after the turn of the year.