Yesterday, I said I thought I needed to cut 30K words. I wasn't quite ready to give up on them yet, you see, and I was still hoping to make them work somehow.
But then I came to the realization the book was moving forward so well when I was writing all new stuff that I realized those 30K words really had to go. Yeah, it's a setback. A blow.
But sometimes you have to do it, friends. If it's not working, no matter how pretty the prose, then it has to go. The story I wrote was perfectly fine — for another line. It's not a Presents as I wrote it. Why? Well, I have an American former military hero and my knowledge of the military got in the way of my knowledge of what a Presents should be. I don't see the two going together at all, so it just didn't work no matter how hard I tried to be true to both.
What is the solution? Obviously, this story is a Presents. So I have to forget what I know about the military and make this guy be what Presents heroes always are. Rich, fabulous, arrogant, etc.
And that requires chucking the entire last half of the book and rewriting it. Of course I'm not happy about it, but this is what you do when you have to get the work done.
I once knew someone who had been working on the same novel, her first, for about six years. She hadn't written anything else, just that one book. And she kept workshopping it to death. Taking it to writing groups, listening to all the crazy advice about passive voice and adverbs and etc (not that all that advice is crazy, but when it's what gets focused on to the exclusion of story, it IS crazy. Not to mention so many writers don't even know what passive voice really is and they get it wrong) and changing the book to satisfy an endless group of people.
I believe she even hired a copy editor. Not a developmental editor, but a copy editor to help her polish that prose. Because she was so focused on the idea her words needed fixing that she couldn't understand the words might be perfectly fine — but they might be the WRONG words. The wrong story.
Sometimes, you have to cut the words and move on. You can save them in another file (I always do) and mine them if you need to. But I think once you get going on that new draft, you won't want the old words. You'll find new ways to say things–not to mention your characters will be in new situations, perhaps even different people now.
It's not a failure when you realize you have to start over. It's a hard lesson, no doubt about it, and it's frustrating as hell. But you can't keep going over the same set of words, the same story, for years and try to make it work. Wouldn't it just be easier to start over?
A few blog posts ago, I gave y'all an excerpt of my single title contemporary military romance. That book is with an editor now, and I hope to get it done and available in the next 2 to 3 months. But want to know a dirty little secret about that book?
I started it eight years ago. I wrote it one way. It was terrible. I rewrote it. And then I rewrote it again. And I mean chucking it all and starting over. Four years ago, I sold to Harlequin, and I put it away. I'd rewritten it three times by then. Last year, I pulled it out again and started working on it. Not a rewrite, because it was much closer now, but a real revision. Deadlines got in my way, but I finally finished that revision and got the book to an editor. Not a copy editor, because I recognize the book may still need more changes.
By the time you're able to read this book, it will have been rewritten several times and revised a couple times more. That's me being stubborn and believing in the story, sure, but it's also me being a professional. You must be willing to kill your darlings. When the story isn't working, don't keep trying to patch it up and move on. Start again. It may be as simple as reworking a character's conflict — or as complicated as chucking it all and starting over.
Not every story needs to be completely rewritten. But if you've been staring at the same words for weeks and having trouble moving forward, you may just need a fresh start. Don't be afraid. Go for it!
I had to laugh when you mentioned about taking the manuscript and getting it looked at. I have one story that I’ve had about 5 people look at. The first person hated the hero. She was supposed to. He’s not supposed to be nice. But I fiddled with him, tried to give him a save the cat moment. Each time someone hated him I made him nicer. Until the last time I was told… You have a story about two nice people who will get married at the end of chapter two. Now I have to go back and start again with him. And I have to remember. He isn’t meant to be nice.
That’s it exactly, Fiona! I’m sorry that happened to you, but it is a learning experience. These days, I only send my stuff to my editor. But I did go through critique groups and partners for a while. I found that groups didn’t work for me so much because they shattered my confidence. So many people with so many opinions.
A CP, OTOH, worked fine for a while. But my last one decided to quit writing and I just never got another one. I do, rarely, ask a friend to read the first chapter if I’m concerned about the set up.
It’s easy to let too many people spoil your work because you think they have valid points. But remember that readers have plenty of opinions about finished books too — and if the writer revised the book based on reviews, there’d be nothing but bland, boring books about nice people out there. 🙂
This post is truly helpful. I have completed several manuscripts, but The Book – the one that I can’t stop thinking about/wanting to write – has been rewritten at least three time. It still isn’t there yet. I have a feeling there will be another rewrite, but the story won’t let me go. I’m glad to know it isn’t just my obsessive nature that keeps it kicking around 😆
Heather, I think sometimes a book is meant to be. One way or the other, some books just are. I was mightily attached to my first book, a medieval historical, but when I finally realized what it was — a practice book — I let it go. Those characters don’t haunt me.
But my military story keeps niggling at me. Even though I changed the characters names, their situations, etc, they essentially stayed the same. And the setup stayed the same too. I couldn’t let it go. And I think my instincts were right. 🙂
I am so glad I’m not the only one who has to start over a few times before I get it right. Thanks so much for sharing. I’m forwarding this link to my CPs 🙂
It happens to all of us! Even when we’re supposed to be seasoned professionals. 😳
Wonderful post, Lynn! I completely understand. I received my notes from the awesome agent yesterday and I have several scenes—one in particular I liked—that I need to drop. Thankfully, it usually takes me about a day to get over it before my imagination sparks with the new scenes and I get excited about rewrites. But wow, that day of grieving for those scenes can seem interminable.
Hi, Callie! Yep, it always takes me a day or two to get my head wrapped around it all. It took me more than a week to realize I had to drop the 30K though. But that was after I’d already revised the first few chapters and realized what came after just didn’t work anymore. Ugh.
Good luck with your revisions!
When I started reading your post, I thought how is it possible to rewrite, revise and such with a story. Didn’t make a lot is sense to me, maybe because I’m not a writer. Then as I was ready to post a comment, I had a light bulb moment?@:! I’ve done that before when a professor gives me a project, I start said project, & realize that instead of PowerPoint, I should have started project in Publisher. So I did actually get it. Good luck with revisions, etc.