Every writer knows this drill. You put words to paper (or screen), read them over and think, “Hey, that’s not half bad. In fact, I am a genius.”
Okay, maybe not those exact words.
I started my first novel with no clear idea of where I wanted it to go. By the time I took a few classes, made a few pitches, and realized it needed a better focus, I had a bloated, overwritten draft that ran 800,000 words, give or take. Sheesh.
I’ve written about this in previous posts. My point in bringing it up again is that all the experts say a first draft rarely makes it past the slush pile. Still, cutting away the fat in my first manuscript was hard. I had to completely tear it down and start from scratch. I’ve heard published authors refer to this process as “killing your darlings,” and that’s about how it feels. I worked for years on that story. Ripping out whole sections, whole characters, provoked a visceral response, at least in the beginning.
My husband wrote a little song for me during that first and hardest rewrite. Called “Help Me Make It Through Rewrite (or The Author’s Lament)” and sung to the tune of “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” the amusing lyrics chronicled the difficulties I faced during the process. It made me laugh, which helped me keep the whole thing in perspective. Here’s a sample verse:
Should this paragraph be here?
Is this scene description right?
Do I have the agent’s ear?
Help me make it through rewrite
Even looking back through my journal entries from that time prove interesting. Here’s one I happened on by accident while preparing to write this post:
It’s okay to rebuild. It’s okay to tear down that which does not work or fulfill or satisfy to make room for that which will. Just pull apart the bones, lay them out for review, and select what you will use again in a new form. Then step over the dusty relics and move on to the more elegant form.
The point is that facing a rewrite is intimidating, but it’s not the end of the world (though it might feel that way). Knowing you have to start over can be gut-wrenching. But if you think about it, you already have all the pieces. It’s only a matter of putting them back together in a better way. The process is completely worth it. I can say that every time I’ve rewritten a draft, I was far happier with the result than I ever was with the first shot.
So pull out that dusty old draft you wrote ten years ago and give it a new look. Maybe you can use pieces of it to make a new, better novel, one that will catch the attention of an agent or publisher at the next writer’s conference.
You never know until you try.