Write or re-write

Now, here’s a thing.

To write or re-write, that is – in a sense – the question.

As I develop my craft, preparing over the next twelve months to see if I can earn a living at this writing game by the time I get back to the UK and actually have to, I have the luxury right now of taking my time writing pieces for magazines, websites and journals. Already I have found the helpfulness of having a subject – in my case life in Bangladesh – that I can use and re-use in various guises. But, up until now, I have re-written each piece I’ve crafted rather than just re-use.

I don’t mean re-written in terms of editing, of course; you’d have to be a fool of a writer if you didn’t edit and re-edit – probably obsessively. What I mean is this: I’ve never offered the same piece to more than one editor or publisher at a time.

If you’re beginning this craft as a professional as I am, you might think this is a sensible thing. But all the guides, courses and books on writing all seem to mention frequently that you can take a successful article and re-sell it to other editors as long as you retain the publishing rights. Of course, you offer it to the editor as a re-print rather than an original and exclusive; this is standard practice – but it is also where I struggle ethically.

You see, while I want/need to earn a living from this strange hobby of putting words in print, I don’t like the idea of earning something for nothing. Once I’ve been paid for a piece – even just a very straight-forward and boring little informational number – I like to think that belongs to the publisher for good and will never be seen like that anywhere else. It would be grandiose to suggest I think of my work as ‘art’ (I can’t afford to think of it as such anyway – art doesn’t pay after all) but even a simple book review contains a little piece of me. I guess I see each article or story as something personal I’m sharing just the once with an audience.

Like I said, I’ve used my life in Bangladesh many times over often referring to the same facts, same stories, same characters I’ve come across. But each time I’ve re-written so it is a new piece, even if related to old. But then I still have the luxury of writing when I want to and spending as long as I like on it. I won’t have that peace when I return back to sunny Britain in January. Can I afford such a lofty ideal or will I ‘sell out’ and offer re-prints of articles to different editors?

I’d like to hope that I will still opt to re-write when I’m busy meeting deadlines on a daily basis instead of, as I am currently, on a weekly one. I just don’t know if it will be possible though.

So, if you’re an experienced freelancer or, like me, just starting out on the job for real, I’d be interested to hear your views and see what you advise. Do you re-write pieces for new editors or have you sold the same article several times and do this as standard? Share the love.

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4 thoughts on “Write or re-write

  1. I don’t sell my writing as you do, but I confess I reuse where possible for author interviews, guest blogs etc, when I think there isn’t likely to be a crossover of audience. I don’t have the luxury of time! I do reread everything and tweak it where necessary. I am sure it is different with articles, but I don’t see a moral issue with it. The whole point of writing, for me, is that you write it once and sell it many times, but then with novels you only make a tiny amount per book!

    I do see people reblog earlier blog posts and used to think that was cheeky. But now, when I have over 250 posts on my blog, I realise it is a way for new readers to see old posts without having to trawl through it all. Maybe you should see it as more readers being able to read your work, as you can spend that time writing fresh things rather than rewriting old articles?

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    1. I think reblogging is fine – I do it myself with other people’s posts – though I’ve not thought of reblogging some of my old stuff! I’ll have to think about that…

      I don’t think there is any great moral issue either way with articles. I certainly wouldn’t say anyone is doing something ‘wrong’ if they sell the same article to several editors over time. I guess it’s just not my preference – at least not yet anyway!

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      1. If you have the time to rewrite and it makes you happy then I think it’s great. It’s all practice, adding hours to the 10,000 we need to become masters of our art! 😉

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