Today’s lesson: Don’t become too enamored of your work. Be ready to trash it and start fresh.
My Re-Writing Retreat
Recently, I treated myself to an overnight writing getaway at a local hotel. I took a half-day off, checked in early, and settled down at my trusty laptop to make the most of my uninterrupted hours of re-writing novel #1. (Am I the most boring guy in the world? Quite possibly.)
My first aim was to fix a couple of chapters featuring my bad guys, who are a bunch of demons.
The first of these chapters was a strange one that had Satan holding a high-level meeting with his three top generals and giving an address to an auditorium of lesser demons at the same time. Plainly, the two—important meeting and speech–don’t go together. The two elements needed to be separate events.
The second chapter is about the audience’s reaction to the speech. The crowd isn’t at all enthusiastic about Satan’s message until a minor demon, my hero’s main opponent, jumps on the bandwagon and gets everybody all whipped up. This chapter worked pretty well on its own.
Aha! I thought. I’ll just remove the speechifying parts from the first chapter and graft them onto the second one.
Simple, right? Well, no.
Re-Writing: Easier than Patching
It didn’t take long for me to see that for my plan to work, I was going to have to change the point of view of the second chapter from Satan’s to the minor demon’s. That would require me to have a different beginning to the second chapter. And then I found that taking the speech-y parts out of the first chapter required me to write or rewrite big chunks to plug the holes the excisions left behind.
I was going crazy because I didn’t want to lose any of the writing I was already so fond of.
At some point, I pushed back from the desk and threw myself onto the bed for a good stare at the ceiling. I was just about to switch from writing mode to napping mode when the awful truth bloomed in my brain.
I was going to have to throw out the two chapters and start all over again with this part of the story.
So I did. I started a fresh document, thought through a rough outline (I am an outliner – your method may be different) and wrote the thing from scratch. The result? One chapter instead of two and a more streamlined, more interesting (I hope) section of novel. To finish up, I stripped the two faulty chapters from the manuscript and replaced them with the one I had just completed.
Writing Lessons Learned
During this process, I learned a few things:
Make versions! Whenever you make a major change to your manuscript, save the old version first with a version number or a date. You never know when you’ll need to go back and mine the original for material.
Keep an experimental mindset. Your scratch rewrite is an experiment. Maybe it will be great, maybe it will utterly fail. I find this makes me less nervous about excising a chunk of previous writing and replacing it. I’m not committing to the big change until I’m good and ready.
Rewrite from scratch in a separate document. I just think this makes life easier. With a nice, blank document, your mind is free from the subtle distraction of what comes before and after your rewritten section. You can patch up any rough transitions or what have you in the next draft.
Don’t hesitate to start fresh. Waiting around to do a fresh rewrite is just a waste of time. I tossed away a good hour, at least, trying to tape and spackle those two existing chapters. When you get that awkward feeling, go ahead and start writing something fresh to replace the stuff that’s not working.
What do you do when a portion of your novel is crying out for major revision? Let me and the rest of the world know in a comment.
Thanks for reading See you next time!