Lying wide awake in bed this morning, in the I’m-too-comfortable-and-it’s-far-too-early-to get-up hours, I was re-mulling over recent thoughts about my current work in progress: my ‘Darwin book’. Nothing drastic, but I’ve identified a slight change in emphasis I want to make which will involve me having to go back and change a couple of chapters whose current status is ‘1st draft complete’. I have a self-imposed rule, learnt through bitter experience, that I shouldn’t go back to tweak finished chapters until I’ve completed the first draft of the entire book. Therein lies madness. I’m an incorrigible tweaker. One thing writing my first book taught me is tweaking doesn’t get first drafts finished.
A well-known nature writer recently advised me not to stick too hard to my self-imposed no-tweaking rule. In fact, their advice was stronger than that: they actually used the word urge. While acknowledging it was a horses-for-courses thing, they rightly advised going back and tweaking is a good way to make sure your books hang together properly. I couldn’t agree more: it’s the main justification I’ve given in the past for all my tweaking. But there has to be a happy medium!
Anyhow, I’ve decided to break my rule and go back to do some tweaking. My justifications this time are as follows:
- the tweaks will make my existing chapters hang together better;
- they’re likely to be relatively minor tweaks, adding a few short sections here and there, rather than totally rewriting what’s gone before;
- I’m happy with what I’ve written so far; I just think a few tweaks will improve what’s already there;
- the tweaks won’t require any research;
- the tweaks will subtly shift the style of the book, making it easier for me, I believe, to write more consistently in future chapters;
- if I don’t make the planned tweaks now, they’ll nag at me incessantly, putting me off working on future chapters! (I should point out that this last ‘justification’ is simply not valid: the whole point of my self-imposed rule is not to give in to the nagging.)
So, anyway, let the tweaking commence!
As I lay in bed considering a few of my planned tweaks in more detail, I found I was already becoming more enthusiastic about the book. I dreamt up a couple of delightful passages that will greatly enhance their respective chapters, and a couple more for chapters I haven’t even begun to write yet. The book already felt more consistent and entertaining.
Of course, dreaming up delightful passages while lying flat on your back in bed in the early hours is all well and good. The real challenge is to get the damn things written. But at least I have a way forward—and a renewed sense of purpose!