At the moment, I'm reading Janny Wurts' 'The Wars of Light and Shadow' series. These are fabulous, amazing books, by a writer of staggering gifts, and I love them to bits. By a clear margin, the best fantasy epics I've ever read; rich in detail at every level, powerful, moving, inspiring and brilliant.
Meanwhile, I'm also trying to promote my book. As part of this process, over the weekend, I started going through the whole book looking for lines I can pull out and use for #novelines tweets. This meant reading the whole thing back.
Let's just say the comparison was not flattering. Contrasted with Wurts' prose, my writing looks bland, emotionless, clunky and overall just bad. I'm now fighting the urge to de-publish and completely rewrite the cussed thing. I *know* I can do better.
And yet, I still have a bunch of really positive feedback from readers. There's some serious cognitive dissonance going on. I'm used to being my own worst critic, but I thought with 'Heaven Can Wait' I'd finally found something I could be pleased with.
So much for that good idea. It's only been 7 months since I finished writing the book, but I've changed massively as a writer (mainly due to the density of reading I've been doing - 'The Wars of Light and Shadow' is the 4th epic fantasy series I've gotten through in that time). The key question is whether the changes are progress or simply reflect me realising exactly what kind of writing I want to be doing.
There are certainly elements of both. On the one hand, I've got a much better grasp now than I used to have of how to use environmental and physical description to flesh out a scene, and of how to write about internal psychological processes (which I used to avoid altogether due to terror of 'telling' too much). On the other, eight months ago I thought of myself as a sci-fi author, despite the overwhelming fantasy bias of my bookcase.
In both cases, there's a legitimate question to be raised over whether I should re-write and re-publish Heaven Can Wait, but it's a different question each time.
If I've just got that much better, then conventional wisdom suggests I should rewrite and republish before lasting damage is done to my reputation as a writer by a shoddy (or at least unrepresentative) debut novel. The alternative view comes from all that time I spent as a webcomic creator that I never shut up about; the webcomic community, or at least the bits of it I had contact with, seemed to mainly be quite strongly opposed to re-writes and re-draws. There was a powerful sentiment of people liking to see how writers and artists progress and grow over time.
There's also the problem of where to stop rewriting. I actually did completely re-do the first two chapters of my webcomic, and regretted it forevermore because there was a sharp and jarring drop in quality at the start of chapter 3. On top of that, I didn't stop getting better after the re-draw, so by the time I gave up the first two chapters were back to being well below the standard of later updates.
Certainly, the desire to see a writer growing and maturing isn't something that's likely to transfer to a paid-for ebook, but I'm not completely convinced about that. The problem of where to stop re-writing is also a worry, though perhaps forestalled in this case since the remainder of the trilogy also needs a re-write. What I'm going to do (and thus my advice, should you find yourself in a similar situation) is talk to the handful of people who've read my book again and grill them in greater detail about what I see as the flaws in my writing.
The alternative, that my tastes have just shifted/settled on a style unlike the style I wrote Heaven Can Wait in, provokes a different question. Specifically, the question of how far I want my published oeuvre to reflect my tastes. Arguably, it's a question of integrity, but I'm not sure it's a serious one. There is still the issue that the later parts of the trilogy are written in style much closer to my current preference, and so if I leave book 1 as it is there's going to be a bit of a clash (particularly if, as discussed last time out, I decide to bung the three together in one volume).
Overall, the arguments seem to marginally favour rewriting, but I don't know whether I have time, and I'm deeply reluctant to take down a book already published. All thoughts on the issue very much welcomed!