I have a story that is dear to me and that I would very much want to write about. However, I don't have lots of experience in writing so I'm afraid if I do try to write it, it won't be as good "as it deserves to be" (at best) or I will botch it (at worst). In any case, I would've "wasted" or "spoiled" the chance to write this particular story.

So logically I should write about other stuff first to gain more experience. But I don't want to write about other stuff. I want to write about the things I want to write about.

This is different from, say, drawing. Even if you are a terrible drawer, if you just want to draw X, you can do it. Then you revisit X a year later, then again the year after, and so on. In fact, this is pretty common for artists. Not so much for writing: people seem to advise against rewriting and revising the same story over and over again.

How can I get out of this gridlock?

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    "people seem to advise against rewriting and revising the same story over and over again." [citation needed] - the closest to this advice that I have ever heard from a professional author was that sometimes you need to put the book down, work on something different for a while, and then come back to it later with a fresh outlook or approach, instead of repeating the same actions again-and-again without making much progress. The second-closest is about knowing when your story is done and you're just procrastinating about moving on. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 12:20
  • I have never heard anyone advise against rewriting or revising a story. "The Cold Equations" for instance famously received several rounds of major revisions before publication. The closest I have ever heard is that you don't want to write the same type of story so often it becomes formulaic if you want to improve as a writer, but even there some professional writers do just that and make a living. Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 16:01
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    This sound like Wyld Stallyns never writing an awesome song because they don't know how to play, and they can't learn to play without Eddie van Halen, but they can't make friends with Eddie van Halen because they're not famous, and they can't get famous without an awesome song... just write your story and don't worry about it.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 17:47
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    Bernard Werber rewrites his books entirely from scratch several dozen times before publishing. (He said so in a podcast I can’t trace back.) Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 21:54
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    One of the most important Italian novels, "The Betrothed", has undergone at least two major rewrites, the first of which had a language change (from Lombard to Tuscan dialect), major outline changes, large sequences added or removed, some characters being expanded or shadowed, and even the main protagonist being renamed from "Fermo" to "Renzo". As you can see, editing and rewriting may well be part of any project :)
    – Simone
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 7:38

10 Answers 10


Who told you it's bad to rewrite a story? That's terrible advice. No one ever publishes something without a ton of rewrites, and many well-known writers revisit similar themes over and over. It took me a long, unproductive time to realize that writing is a process, and that you have to embrace it. You only get better by doing it. You can't produce something good except by work and rework, by writing and rewriting. Not every word will be gold, and that's more than okay. The less fixated you are on the final result, the better your work will become.

I'm personally working on a novel that was based on a dream I had 15 years ago. I've previously tried writing it as a story, a graphic novel and screenplay. I feel like each iteration added depth I couldn't have gotten any other way. Or, if you'd prefer a example from a famous author, consider Nabakov. His masterwork, Lolita, reworked themes from his much less successful novel of seventeen years earlier, Laughter in the Dark.

Keep in mind, no one has to see your drafts (although getting good critiques is a crucial way to improve). You might write a version today that's terrible. That's progress! Let it sit in a drawer for a while, and learn to fix the things that are wrong with it. When you get it back out again, you'll be in a better position to write it more as you want it to be. The only time rewriting is a problem is when it's no longer making anything better, when it's a retreat from sharing your work and letting people react to it. But that's not your problem today. You can't let the fear of it stop you from even getting started.

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    What, is Nabakov cancelled now? His protagonist is the villain of the story, not its hero. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 17:49
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    Regardless, this isn't a hill I'm looking to die on. If you have a less notorious example that illustrates the point, let me know. Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 18:02
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    @nick012000 The list of great books that are no longer politically correct or offends the arbitrary and ever changing “ morals” of the moment is so large that no true litterary discussion can occur without them, or would prefer to ban and censure those books too, a little autodafé maybe? Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 9:27
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    @nick012000 It's not an instructional manual. Examining, and trying to understand the worst parts of human nature is a key function of fiction. It's fine for you to make a personal choice not to read a book because of its subject, but to cast aspersions on its readers is misguided at best, dangerous at worst. "Game of Thrones" and "Silence of the Lambs" didn't become bestsellers because their readers were all incestuous regicides, or aspiring cannibals. Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 13:36
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    @nick012000 Why not put it that way from the start? That's a valid reason not to read it. Although, I'm not sure how the book could ever possibly be considered child pornography. It's been over 10 years since I read it, but there's nothing graphic in that book that I recall. Like Chris said, it's not an instruction manual.
    – user91988
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 15:59

Write it.

It may be as bad as you anticipate, but you can revise it. In fact, many writers do advise revision. Just not to the exclusion of doing new stuff. (And different stories.)

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    And if you don't like it, go write other stuff to improve your craft before coming back and revising it later.
    – GammaGames
    Commented Jul 14, 2020 at 14:50
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    Or, if all else fails, come back in 5-10 years after you have more experience under your belt, throw out the old manuscript, and start over from scratch. Obviously, that's not necessarily going to be the best solution in the typical case, but it's always an option.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jul 16, 2020 at 7:22

Tolkien wrote the first drafts of what would become the Silmarillion during the first world war. He tinkered with it most of his life, writing and rewriting whole swathes of stuff.

Writing something out doesn't obligate you to finish it, nor does it obligate you to go out and publish it. You can bash the whole thing out and put it in a desk drawer and not look at it for a decade if you so choose. There's no 'rules' that you must follow in regards to how you go about writing something, nor is there an invisible community of established authors watching over your shoulder judging everything you do.

If it's in your head and itching to come out, put it on paper. You'll probably find plenty of issues with the story that need to be sorted out that you didn't think of. If the story's great, then great! If not, there's no harm in leaving it for a few years while you gather experience or do other things.


Lack of skill isn't a problem. Lack of skill can be improved by both practicing and revising; just like riding a bicycle, or conversing with people [which I certainly lack the skill]. As @Mary stated so succinctly, just "Write it".

The writing process is a learning one. As you proceed typing at the computer (or writing on your notepad), you'll find out whether or not the words or the story work. If it doesn't click, find ways to make it click. The English language has so many language constructs, I'm sure you'll find something that will make it click. Heck, even if it doesn't click, it's not a problem. Put it aside and let your brain think of ways to make the story/words click.

First and foremost, write for yourself and no one else. There is literally no pressure when you're giving yourself the freedom to create even if it's absolute gunk at first. Absolutely no one needs to know what you write about (unless you wish it to be known).


If the story won’t let you go then write it. By writing it, your skill will improve and you will find more tools. After writing my first manuscript, I put it away for a few months and wrote other stories and read popular books in the genre and books about different aspects of writing and story telling.

Every story can be tightened. Expectations change, sometimes I am in the middle of a story and realized that the actions didn’t make sense for the character and have to go back to plot more. Solving problems like this gives you writing muscle you didn’t have before.

Don’t worry about anyone else’s opinion. This is your story not theirs. Once you hit publish, that changes. Of course there are stories we write to market, but there are always deeper stories we write because they’re screaming to be told. Sometimes they only change us and that’s enough. Not every story gets published, but they train our skills so we can publish something else.


This answer joins Mary: ‘Write it’.

Perhaps, some inspiration from another writer -- Robert Graves -- might help.

I am including a transcript of an interview, and although Graves speaks of how he writes poetry, it is entirely possible to apply his process of writing to anything.

Note that he refers to writing and rewriting as something simply inherent in the nature of things. For him, a poem (the final literary work) has already been written - it exists before he starts. He is not writing it. He has to get “back to the original” that is there.

Here are his words:

Graves: ...a cloud descends on you, you do not know what's happening; then you suddenly realise that there is something, some problem of extreme importance that's got to be solved, then you realise there is a poem around, and then, suddenly, two words or three words come to your mind and that gives a start, and then you write the poem, and it's as though the poem has already been written, and you are trying to reconstitute it; you have got the poem as something already there; you have got to get back to the original, your original view of it, and so you work hard and hard to get it back to something near what it really is, was, would be...

Interviewer: Could it be compared to a mystical experience?

Graves: Of course, it is mystical…

Interviewer: Do you feel that you have succeeded at times in doing this, in getting this thing out?

Graves: When you find the poem, and you can’t do anything more to it, then you put it away.

Interviewer: But you keep on revising it?

Graves: It is easy to cheat yourself, and very often you think that you have written the poem that is alright and then after time you realise that in some slight way you have cheated…

So, what you want to write is "already there". Start, and words will “come to your mind”! (And then correct where you will discover that you have “cheated”...)

The full interview is here.


Seen a lot of good answers here, but still not sure how directly they're addressing the concern of you 'spoiling' your story. IMHO there are two aspects to this; Structure/planning and descriptive style. For structure, Try thinking this way:

  • the definition of a 'bad' or 'spoilt' story is one that doesn't 'go' anywhere or loses interest (this doesn't apply to non-fiction, obviously).
  • Therefore, you need to find the most interesting bit of your story (the bit that really makes you want to write it) and make sure it's somewhere near the end - even if chronologically it was near the beginning of the narrative.

This should give two possible outcomes; if the climax is chronologically late in the narrative, you'll have a basic 'quest' structure that starts with a main problem of some kind, probably adds some challenges/confusions along the way and climaxes once the quest is achieved - there are hundreds of examples I could cite here. If however the climax is earlier on chronologically, you get a much more zany structure that's a lot rarer - the example that springs to mind is The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward, in which the beginning is confused and jumbled but the first key climax is reached once it becomes clear that the narrator (it's in the first person) is in a Mental Hospital recovering from a breakdown (spoiler, sorry).

If you can get all that roughly planned out so you have your story in bullet points, in an order you'd want it to be read (NB this does NOT mean it's the order you'll write it in) then you're well on the way to having a really good story. The second aspect to the story, descriptive style, is purely a matter of personal preference and will be unique to you, but probably influenced heavily by what you read - in my opinion, I like to read stuff that infers the obvious details but leaves them unsaid or says them in a roundabout way (any other fans of P G Wodehouse out there?!) but have a look at what writers you like, and see if they use a lot of metaphor/simile, particularly long/deep descriptions or short succinct ones, that sort of thing? For maximum effect you'll want to vary the style a bit depending on which bit of the story you're writing - if you think of it like a film, put the long full descriptions for the 'slow motion' bits and the short snappy stuff in the action-packed fast sequences. Or, and much more effective if you can, just describe everything however it occurs to you, then skim back through it and see if it seems the same when you read about it as it did when you were just thinking it. Strangely, this often makes a lot of difference...

Finally, just ignore any advice about rewriting or not. If you as the author feel something should be re-written, then by all means do so. If not, don't bother. As @Ingolifs answer mentioned, Tolkein's master work was written in little sections, many of which got edited individually at various different times. And if I'm honest, this answer got partly re-written before I hit the 'post' button!!

Most of all though, you have to enjoy writing it. If it was fun to write, someone will almost certainly find it fun to read. Same applies for if it was inspiring to write, or sad, or practically any other emotion you want to invoke in the reader.


The only "gridlock" is caused by hesitation; pausing to ask, instead of writing.

If you have a story you believe deserves to be told, tell it. If you must, ask yourself whether the story is better told badly, or not at all?

Of course, when you want to write about the things you want to write about, that's what you should do.

If you believe this is different from carving or drawing, painting or poetry, sculpture or any other art form, why not ask a few artists - even would-be artists? It's almost guaranteed they will correct you, whatever their chosen media.


You have received some good answers here. "Write it" by Mary is the best I think.
Then it may come the time you decide to set aside your story for a while. It may feel too vast, too complicate to render as well as you would like. You could start a smaller story in the same 'universe' for a change.
If you are writing a large piece of epic fiction that echoes and expands your studies in philology you may find the need to detach a little from it after a while. Maybe a fable about a little man joining a company in an unexpected journey and becoming an unlikely hero would come out nicely.


There are plenty of cases of authors rewriting stories. Arthur C. Clarke co-wrote the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was based on his short story "The Sentinel". Piers Anthony wrote a novelization of Total Recall, which was based on Phillip K. Dick's story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". Isaac Asimov turned his novelette "Nightfall" into a novel. The novel Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes started out as a short story. Agatha Christie had several versions of And Then There Were None, although that is the only title I'm willing to include in my post. The Twilight Zone had several episodes that were redone in different incarnations of the show, such as "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" on the original 60s run being about anti-Communism while the 2003 Twilight Zone had a version of it about anti-terrorism. Battlestar Galactica was reimagined.

And those are some of just the ones we know about. How many stories started out as something else, and only the last version was released?

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