I'm reading Writing with Power by Peter Elbow, and I'm finding some really good stuff as well as a few items I disagree with. One thing he says that I like has to do with design flexibility. He says essentially that an outline planned out before you write is like: "a plan you work out for travel in an unfamiliar country; it usually has to be changed once you get there and see how things really work." I know writers who use outlines to great effectiveness, but I believe a risk of outlining is that the result can turn out flat and stale, without spontaneity. Oftentimes as I'm working on a book, I'll find my mind running off onto tangents that turn out to be far more creative than what I'd come up with, or could come up with, after careful conscious consideration. The conscious mind just isn't "playful" enough to generate the best twists and turns.
Another thing Elbow points out is that too much conscious rewriting can often wring all the fresh juice out of a piece. It can end up making your prose plod instead of sing. I realized this a long time before I read Elbow. And I have a suggestion about how to deal with the issue for anyone who writes. Anytime I'm going to make substantial changes to a story, more than just revising a few words or correcting grammar, I save two copies of my file. I usually call them “Storyorg” for the original, and “storynew” for the other. Then I only work on the new file. This way, if I revise all the life out of a paragraph, I can always go back to the original and copy and paste that paragraph back into the new story. The original is sacrosanct, untouched except to provide a safety net so I can revise the new file with an axe and not worry about cutting anything out that’s important.
By now in my files, I actually have 3 or 4 versions of some of my stories. I have the original. I might have a piece that is revised to be shorter, or revised with a different ending. Or I might have a piece that I’ve altered into a horror story from what was originally a mainstream piece. As long as I’ve got the original saved, I feel completely comfortable hacking a story to shreds and letting the chips fall where they may.
Many of the stories in my collection, Bitter Steel illustrate this process. I don't think a story in that collection reads exactly the way it did when it was first released. Some have been dramatically revised. But I still have that original tucked away safe and sound in my files.