Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Rewrite: In Hindsight

Last night I did something I've been wanting to do for, oh, six months or so. I finally, finally finished rewriting Transparent! It's DONE. Okay, not done, but you know, the first draft is all the way written. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Some of the sentences might even make sense!


Right now I'm mostly feeling relief. I know I have lots of revisions left, but I did it. For a while I wasn't even sure I could finish, so it's nice to know that I could at least do that!

Rewriting—as in starting completely over from blank document—has been quite the experience. In some ways, it was easier than I thought, and in others much harder.

When I first began, I thought I'd be scared. I was starting over! I had to write the whole book again, after I'd spent the last six months editing it and the three before that writing it. The idea should have been daunting, but it wasn't.

Once I wrote my first chapter again, I knew the book would be better. It was exciting! You know how sometimes in life you wish you could have a do over? Yeah, it was like actually getting one! I had the hindsight of the old story. I knew how to make it better. I could just write it all over again and pretend the bad version never happened!

It was liberating in a way. Suddenly it felt like I could fix ALL my old books! Rewriting wasn't so bad. I mean, I had this outline for the new and improved version, I already knew the characters, I knew what mistakes to avoid. All I had to do was follow my outline until it was done, right?

Yeah...or not.

What I didn't expect was the emotional impact of rewriting. I mean, having to write your book again, no matter how you put it, implies failure. I failed so badly at the first attempt that not even six months of editing fixed it. I had to start over completely.

It hit me about 50 pages in—this feeling of utter incompetence. How was I supposed to know this draft was any better? What the heck did I know? Hello, I'd rambled on for 68k words, never thinking once that what I was writing might not ultimately work. Add in some other rather traumatizing writing events and, wow, I was a wreck.

I felt stupid. There's no way around it. I felt like the stupidest writer ever born. I doubted everything about my writing. How should I know if my outline was any good? What if my characters were as lame as ever? What if I put in all this time and just mess it up all over again? Obviously, I hadn't learned as much as I thought I had in the last few years—I couldn't even put together an acceptable book when I tried!

Not really the best mentality for writing. This is where alpha readers become vital, because if it weren't for Nick, Kiersten, AND Kasie (yes, I had to ADD an alpha it was that bad) I never would have finished. The only thing that really kept me going was their encouragement. Them saying it was good would give me just enough faith to get through the next chapter before I wanted to give up again. And sometimes I didn't even believe them, but their nagging pushed me through.

I wish I could say it got better after a while, but it didn't. It wasn't the book—it was me. My mentality got worse as I ventured into the middle. It felt like I was repeating myself (uh, because I kind of was). It seemed like there was no tension (though my alphas claimed there was). It felt like the book was the most boring, stupid thing ever. I didn't want to finish. It didn't seem worth it.

I stopped for about six weeks to work on another project. And though that work ultimately had its own challenges, the time away from Transparent was a godsend. It gave me a chance to step back from all those awful feelings—to see that it was me who had the problem, not the book.

I may not have been bouncing-off-the-walls happy when I got back to it, but I was pleased. I felt like maybe it wasn't so worthless. Maybe it would turn out okay, and that was enough to push me through the last 20k or so.

So now I'm done. I think I'm more proud that I got through it than anything. I know it needs a lot more work, but I'm glad I survived emotionally. That was the most unexpected challenge. It made all the others seem like cake.

If you're rewriting, my heart goes out to you. If I can do it, you can too! It doesn't mean you're a bad writer or that your story sucks. Sometimes you just don't know enough that first time around—I didn't truly know the conflict of my story until after the 8th edit! That's when I realized I'd skipped ahead and it was all messed up.

And to those of you who haven't rewritten, I guess be prepared for a serious roller coaster of emotions. You can get through it, that's what I learned, and no matter what you feel your book will be better. That, somehow, is worth it.


  1. I so feel your pain. My second novel that I wrote was really a rewrite. Well, partial rewrite. I'd written a bunch of the story but then abandoned it. When I went back, I decided to just start over. It's a pain, but it can be worth it.

    Congrats on finishing the rewrite. I know it was a lot of work and you struggled, but you survived. The things that don't kill us make us stronger, right?

  2. I'm rewriting too. Those feelings are me! :). But I'm happy for you that you finished it! What an accomplishment! I WISH I was in your position...;)

  3. Stephanie, that's what they say, but I'm still not sure:P

    Ivy, you will be! All you have to do is keep going. I know, easier said than done.

  4. Is it bad that someone else's pain is encouraging? This is a great breakdown of the emotional nature of writing any book, not just rewrites! Congratulations on making it through the struggle. It's helpful to know that there's life on the other side! :)

    Enter my blog contest to win The Hunger Games Trilogy here!

  5. That is so cool that once you wrote the first chapter again you just knew it would be better. I just finished rewriting a first chapter myself. It's amazing what I could see the second time around that I missed the first. Congrats on finishing.

  6. Oh, I hear you. Rewrites are so hard - such a slog, and then you have that self-doubt thing. Congrats for working through it and finishing!

  7. It is a relief to a new unpub'd writer like myself that it's not easy for others. I decided on a lark to write my first book and it was FUN. Then I looked at the rewrites needed, the editing and got overwhelmed and discouraged. Then I read a bunch of fabulous books on writing and realized I'd made even more mistakes starting off the way I had. I wrote a few other beginnings (new books), but I could never picture the end like I had that first book. So now I'm rewriting from scratch. It's a lot harder and a lot more demanding but I can already see it's better even though the writing process has become somewhat painful and nothing of the fun adventure. Anyway, thanks for sharing that it's not always easy and congratulations on finishing!

  8. THANK YOU!!

    It's hard not to feel the Creeping Rot taking over. Some days I think the book has it, that it will be decent, and then other days, I think I'm wasting my time. But I have to keep going...

    I also like to take a break every once in awhile and write out summaries for another book idea. It helps.

    It's nice to know that other people feel the same way I do while rewriting.

  9. It is hard to know when what you're changing is an improvement, but just remember, you've grown as a writer since you first typed the manuscript. Starting from scratch on the scenes that need help works the best for me, rather than just staring at the full manuscript. Like during surgery, when they cover all of you except for the bit they're about to cut into. ;)

    I just finished some major revisions that an agent (not MY agent...yet) asked for and at first the task was pretty daunting. But once I got over the fact that I would be changing things a lot, I realized how much stronger my writing is now than it was when I first "finished" the story in early 2009.

    It's been a long road, but hopefully this agent will like my revisions enough to offer representation.

    Fingers crossed!

  10. I kinda have this picture in my mind of you in a space suit pressing the giant period key on the moon. Then bouncing up and down in slow motion, pumping your fists. Congratulations :)

  11. Lyla, I really, really wish that's how it happened:)

  12. THANK YOU!
    Your post was very timely for me. Maybe now I an pull up my MS and do some more work. I stayed away for almost five weeks now.

    THANKS again!

  13. I'm happy to hear you got through it. I've recently finished rewriting my book and I understand each step of your process. Editing and rewriting are completely different things and should be experienced by every writer. Way to go on finishing and good luck with the next steps.

  14. Yeah, some days I'm not sure I believe it either.

  15. Thank you! That was exactly what I needed to read today. Last night, after everyone was asleep, or at least pretending to be, I sat down to work on the third revision of my MS and couldn't. I was questioning the whole story and where I was going. I have a disconnect early in the novel and have tried a couple of ideas to glue things back together. I was ready to give up.

    After reading our struggles I thought, maybe that's what I need to do, re-write and not edit. This time I know where the story is going, I know my characters, etc.

    Thank you again!

  16. Good point, Nat. Got a fantasy I've been thinking about for umpteen years. Alternative history story with ninjas (I call them Kage, which means shadows) and oni (demons) and lots of mythological Japanese creatures turned real. Needs a rewrite. Only have 45,000 words right now, but needs a rewrite. Well, I really need to sit down and start over. After I finish the book I'm working on. #7 got accepted last week.

    Charlie Whipple

  17. I feel the same things. Sigh. Currently in the middle of the same kind of start with a blank page rewrite. Congrats on finishing your! Woot for you!

  18. "...your book will be better," is always worth it!

    Congrats on "seeing" your way through! (Sorry, I know it's corny. I just got home from the first night of pulling the neighbourhood float for the town festival. My brain is fried :( )

  19. Congratulations! I started from scratch on my current WIP, but I had only about 20,000 words at that point. I can't imagine deleting an entire manuscript! Yipes! You are awesome!

  20. OMIGOSH! I'm feeling these things and I'm just on my FIRST DRAFT. I'm so toast. Or maybe I'm getting it out of the way now so I won't have to deal with those feelings later.

    Good on you, Natalie, for getting through it. Emerson said "The best way out is always through." Thanks for teaching that today.

  21. Thank you sooo much for this post! I am rewriting MY ENTIRE NOVEL and I'm about 1/3 the way through. I've gone through those emotions too. I was scared, I felt stupid, I felt like a failure. Then I thought it was so amazing. Like oh my gosh my book is acutually good now! Last few days, I've been experiencing the whole, what am I thinking? emotion and worrying that I'll be destined to rewrite everything over and over again for the rest of my life. BUT, I think after a lovely weekend with hubby, I'll go back in with a bang!
    time for that much needed break from writing.
    Do you agree that rewriting is cause for extra breaks?