The Wooly World of Fiction Re-Writes

In 2005, I wrote a book. Well, “book” is an incredibly liberal term for what I wrote. A better description might be “a random, writhing mass of fictional prose”. It was my first time to finish NaNoWriMo in two years. I was excited.

This mass of fictional prose had llamas in it. Later that winter, I would write another writhing mass using the same characters. In May of 2006, I wrote the third and “final” “chapter” of my “llama trilogy”.


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I did it for a few reasons. Mainly, I’d always wanted to write a trilogy because COME ON. Who DOESN’T endeavor to write a trilogy if they’ve ever set out to write anything? Who DOESN’T sit down at their keyboard, pound out “It was a dark and stormy night” and then press their fingers together whilst muttering about how THIS will be the book that changes EVERYTHING!!!!???

Anyway, I did that, it involved llamas. Ever since then, I’ve been waving my fist in the air claiming how I will one day edit the thing and make it something legitimately readable. I have IDEAS and whatnot, PLANS, that sort of thing. But every time I sit down with it and think “THIS TIME I’LL REALLY GET SOME WORK DONE ON THIS MONSTER”, do you know what happens? Not a whole lot. I get overwhelmed, confused and discouraged. I wonder how anyone on the face of the Earth has ever managed to re-work their novels into something presentable.


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I’ll set it back down and figure, maybe it’s just not meant to be. But then I’ll have more ideas, more plans, and I’ll take a stab at it again, with much the same results.

I’ve done a lot of poking around in the minds of other authors, reading interviews and listening to podcasts, trying to figure out some sort of formula to going about this re-write process. Unfortunately, much like the writing process itself, everyone re-writes differently. In the same way I figured out how I write best*, I would have to figure out how I re-write best.

I’ve tried other people’s methods, including Holly Lisle’s fabled one-pass revision. I’ve tried writing outlines, detailed character sketches, organizing subplots, and I have failed at all of them. I’ll start re-reading my rough draft, trying to make notes and keep the story in my head and just get to the end of the damn thing, but I never make it. Somewhere in the re-read, the task becomes too daunting and I have no desire to return to it.


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The frustration comes from the fact that I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, along with the knowledge that no one can tell me what I’m supposed to be doing. Also, for whatever reason, a large number of authors tend to keep their editing process fairly vague, cryptically referencing “re-writes” and leaving it at that. As someone who has thus far been completely stymied by the re-write process, I feel somewhat cheated by this lack of discussion. I don’t know why I can’t find it, but I feel like it has to be out there somewhere, since there is a HUGE amount of re-writing done between first drafts and publication.

I’ve written at least eight rough drafts. I’ve managed to re-write and revise exactly zero of them.

The struggle to find my own re-writing style continues. While I was lying down to sleep the other night, I had an idea that I think might lead me in the right direction:

Approach the draft less like a novel to edit, and more like source material for a research paper.

I used to hate research papers, but once I learned HOW to go about writing them my junior year of high school, I started to love them. Basically, I read a bunch of source material, take notes on any parts I think might be relevant, and once I’ve got a pretty sizable stack of notes, I’ll start assembling them into some sort of order. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the blanks.


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For the past couple of days, I’ve been doing this with my llama trilogy, instead of my “normal” (aka: failed) process. Rather than trying to do a straight re-read, I’ll pick up the manuscript and open it to a random page and start reading. I only read for as long as it holds my interest. When I read a scene I really like and might want to try to work into the final story, I’ll mark it with a post-it and a quick note on what I like.

I have ideas for scenes that will need to be added for the story to make it work the way I’m envisioning it now, and once we have the Internet in our new apartment I’ll start writing those. (For some reason, it’s so much easier for me to write knowing that when I’m done, I can log onto LJ or FB and announce that I’ve just done a bunch of writing. Instant gratification and all that jazz.)

Taking short, random stabs at my book this way is already making the re-writing process seem more fun and less tedious. It now feels like dumping a jigsaw puzzle out of the box and finding which pieces fit together, rather than having to sit down and write from beginning to end a story I’ve already discovered and explored.

I’ll report back to let you know how this method is working for me. And by the way, if you’re a writer who has successfully completed a re-write or two, I would love to know the details of how you go about it. If you’re a writer who hasn’t successfully completed a re-write, but has tried (like myself), I would love to hear what you’ve tried and why you think it didn’t work.

*In case you’re curious, the way I write best is to start with absolutely no idea what I’m going to write about and just start typing. I need to do it fast, in a defined time frame, and let it evole as it goes. That is the most fun and effective way for me to write.

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