June 11, 2010

Have You Ever Re-written an Entire Novel?

Bad news on the writing front.

*deep breath*

My YA dystopian isn't working. I've been trying to finish it for the past week, but it's not coming together. The plot is convoluted. The motivations unclear. The entire thing is...kind of broken.

Kind of irrevocably broken.

Normally, I'd press ahead and try to fix things, but I think this novel has some serious flaws that can't be fixed with re-writing and editing. *le sigh*

BUT I do think some stuff can be salvaged. First, I really like the premise of the book. I feel really strongly about it. Second, I love the main character Anna and her romantic interest Zak. Although the novel itself is severely flawed, I think the romance between Anna and Zak is one of the few things that do work.

So I'm scrapping the unfinished novel and re-writing the whole damn thing. The basic plot will stay the same (Anna must bear the children for her sterile city) along with the romance, but pretty much everything else will change. The setting...the supporting characters...the side plots...all new.

A part of me is kind of freaked out. Holy crap! I'm throwing out 48,000 words and starting fresh? Am I insane?!

But a part of me is excited, too. I think I may have needed to write those 48,000 words to flesh out Anna and to get the voice of the story right. I'm also kind of stoked about the new direction the novel is taking--I actually thought about doing this a few months back but I decided against it since I had already written about 20,000 words. Ha! Maybe my initial instinct was right.

Have any of you guys scrapped a novel and re-written it from scratch? Any advice for me as I tackle this ordeal?


  1. I've never written a novel so I guess I have no advice on that front, but it does remind me of two things.

    First it reminds me of something I read a couple years back in an introduction that Card included at the beginner of Speaker for the Dead where he talked about some of the problems he had writing that story. In it he stated, "It meant throwing out all but the first couple of chapters of what I had written so far (and, in fact, I ended up completely writing the novel from the beginning), but it soon dawned on me that it was worth doing, for this was the final idea, the one that would pull me through the whole book."

    And the second thing your blog reminds me of is sitting in a figure drawing class in college and having an art teacher tell me I needed to scrap a charcoal drawing that we had been working for 9 class hours already. I didn't want to cause I had put so much work into it. And there were many good things about it. But she told me that I had a decision to make. The picture wasn't working as it was and I could spend the next two class periods trying to fix or cover up the problem spot or I could begin again and work from what I had already learned from studying the figure for three straight class periods. Hardest thing to do was to scrap so much effort, but I washed out the whole thing with dark charcoal and worked back into it with my eraser. I found that I could work much quicker and more accurately the second time because of the time I had spent learning my subject. After two class periods I ended up with a piece that was far better than anything else I had done in that class and heaps more accurate and interesting than the piece I started with. And it would not have happened if I hadn't worked so hard for three classes, scraped the piece, and started over.

    So, I guess there's something to be said for not just re-working but re-writing your piece. It will probably amaze you in the end how much clearer and better it is. At least that's my hope for you. Good luck.

  2. I rewrote my current WIP two months after I started it. I didn't like the main character, and I thought about giving her a clearer purpose in the story, so I changed her. Also, some subplots got tossed out, others added.

    Don't freak out! I know it sucks to see flaws in your baby, but at least you're smart (and awesome) enough to face them.

    Best of luck!

  3. I've never scrapped the "entire" novel, but just about. My last WIP, I reached page 70 and realized I had to start again at page 20. Then when I finished the first draft, which was around 320 pages long, I realized I had to start again at page 140 and rewrite the entire second half. It was painful. I was convinced it would make the book stronger, but it was still really scary and intimidating and hard to do.
    My advice? Do it anyway.
    For me, at least, it was 110% worth it. The story I came out with after the mass rewrites was sooo much cleaner and stronger than my original.
    So, my vote is that you are not crazy, you are smart enough to see what needs to be done, and brave enough to do it. Go for it! :)

  4. *hugs* I rewrote my entire first novel after working on it for six months. It was complete at 100k at the time. I decided it just wasn't going to work and revisions would be far too extensive for me to handle. So, I rewrote the entire thing.

    Just think of this as an opportunity to spend more time with the characters you love and make the book the best it can be. As long as you're enjoying writing (at least most of the time) then it's worth it. At least that's what everyone else told me when I rewrote mine from scratch.

  5. I've never scrapped an entire novel so I can only sympathize. Just the idea makes my head hurt.

    That said, I've been trying to wing it with Book #2. Stephen King told me to. Stephen King was wrong.

    I need an outline! (Okay, I had one, but it was as bare bones as they come.) So I'm currently untangling the beginning so I can make it to the end- I've got at least 20,000 words to go, but had to stop because it just wasn't working any more.

    Good luck!

  6. I just decided to re-write my first book. I love the setting and the story, but I love them too much to let my first crack at them be their official version. So I'm writing more to hone my skills and then I'll tackle it again. Which was a VERY hard decision, but one that I'm happy about.

  7. You can do it! I actually know for a fact that my first YA novel is one that I will ultimately have to rewrite at some point, but just can't get into the mindset to do it right now. The plot and characters rock, but there are so many issues that I need to fix (boo- hiss!) I think once I complete the YA series I am working in right now, I'll go back to it and hopefully then I'll be more in the mindset to do what needs to be done. Good luck!!!

  8. Hi Caroline! I feel your pain. I'm in the same boat right now. I wrote my first draft, read it, realized it was NOT WORKING and needed a whole re-write. Then I promptly freaked out and shut it away in a drawer for a whole year. What a waste of time.

  9. Wait, how did that happen? I wasn't finished!

    Anyhow, what I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted by an erratic 'enter' key is that it's best to just right back into it while it's still fresh in your mind. It's like ripping off a band-aid -- just do it!

    Another piece of advice I got is to outline the story before starting again, so you don't make the same mistake twice. That's where I am -- in the middle of my second draft, which is still a bit of a mess, so I started outlining. It's bringing everything together for me, and I'm starting to see where I went wrong and how to fix it. Not everyone is an outliner (I wasn't), but you might want to give it a try.

    Good luck, and you can do this!

  10. I know how this feels ... both of my shelved novels are stories that I feel I could do better if I rewrote them pretty much from scratch (same basic plot and main characters, but different setting, developments, etc). And for at least one of them I do intend to revisit the novel when I get the chance. Maybe after I finish my WIP ...

    Just remember, no writing is wasted! Like you said, you learned a lot about the world and your characters by writing that 48k, so even if you scrap all of it, now you have a much stronger starting place. It takes skill and strength to scrap and rewrite instead of endlessly tweaking something that just won't work. Good luck!

  11. What courage! Good luck to you!

  12. Wow, such fantastic advice from all of you guys! Thank you so much! This is the boost I definitely needed to hanker down start anew. Wahoo!

    Cass - Thanks for sharing your own experiences in the art world. (It's interesting to see the parallels between creating art and creating literature.) Wow, it must've been really hard to start your piece from scratch! But it sounds like everything worked out well in the end. Hopefully, I can see this piece one day!

    Amparo - A big thank you! It's so nice to know that other writers have been through this exact same situation and have come out the better for it.

    Ellen - Wow, it sounds like you've been on this roller coaster ride, too! Your experiences sound a lot like my first novel. I had to re-write the first 30% of the book after an editor thought the beginning was too flat. Man, it was hard but worth it in the end!

    Horserider - I totally need to give you major props! It must've taken SO much courage to rewrite a novel that was over 100K. Wow, wow, wow! Kudos to you! And thanks for your advice. You're totally right--I need to see this as an opportunity and a new beginning. How's your novel coming along now by the way?

  13. Stephanie - I'm the same way! I walys write from the hip, which worked for my first novel but caused disastrous results with my second. Haha. But it's hard for me to outline! Argh, but it can be necessary at times, I suppose.

    Kristopher - Hey, we're in the re-writing boat together! I feel the same way as well. It's been a hard decision for me, but I think it's the right one.

    Lindsay - Thanks for the encouragement! And I can't wait to read more of The Songbirds! From reading your blog, it sounds like you and Julie are almost finished with Book 1! Wahoo!

    Meredith - Thanks for your comment! Again, I'm just blown away by how many people have had to rewrite their novels from scratch. I'm so glad that I'm not alone! And great advice about outlining--it's something I really need to get better at. Haha. I will give it a try and let you know how it's working out!

    Lynn - I agree! No writing is wasted. (Must remind myself of this every day!) Although it kind of breaks my heart to shelve those 48,000-words, I know that it was necessary for me to write them.

    AnneB - Thank you! I appreciate it!