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”.


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.


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.


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.


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.



The point of this post is that I’m going to blog every day until the end of August and I’m taking suggestions for topics, but I take a while to get to it, so I thought I’d add this italicized bit at the top. Please KEEP READING for my fascinating explanation!

I realize I already posted today but I went for a run and drank a nice coconut water* and took a nice shower and in that shower I had an IDEA so I wanted to make another post.

As you may or may not know (but you really should because it’s kind of important), every year I participate in National Novel Writing Month, a journey through the month of November in which people attempt to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. It is oodles and oodles of fun, but in recent years, I’ve found myself attempting to use it to write grand, sweeping, epic works of non-fiction, which the rules clearly state you’re not allowed to do (fiction only, bub).

While I know deep down in my heart that writing non-fiction for NaNoWriMo will not actually cause me to be carted off to jail or drown in a terrible boating “accident”, the guilt monkeys still eat me alive until I concede to start over on a work of fiction. Sometimes I still make it to the finish line. Sometimes I don’t.

HOWEVER, the NaNoing gods have deemed the months of July and August CAMP NaNoWriMo, two more months to attempt the same stupid feat.

This fills me with an odd sense of writerly freedom. This is CAMP, for crying out loud, and what is camp for if not to run around in stuff that’s new, unexplored, dipping your toe into a little bit of each various activity just for the heck of it? To shoot a bow and arrow even though you’re terrified of sharp things? To go on long, arduous hikes through mountains when you’d normally be inside watching YouTube videos? To ride in a canoe and flip it over just to say you did??

Anyway, the point is, I’ve been trying to decide what I’d like to write for Camp. And the truth is, I mostly just want to use it as an excuse to write a LOT. But after searching my feelings like a good Jedi, I’ve realized that what I’d most like to write are more blog posts. A lot more. Say, a post every day until the end of August?

Yes, I realize I’ve already missed the first week of July, but you know what, I’ve been moving and also giving up a substance researchers have found to be just as addictive as cocaine and heroin, so I’m forgiving myself that slight.

HOWEVER. I’m opening the floor up to post topics. If you have something you’d like me to blog about, LET ME KNOW. You are limited ONLY by the trappings of your own imagination. Is there something I’ve blogged about before that you’d like to hear more about? Something you like that you want to hear my take on? Something completely random and off the cuff, yet oddly specific, like, “I want you to blog about what happens to a capuchin monkey when they don’t get enough to eat for five days, please write this from the point of view of the monkey”? SUGGEST IT. You can even suggest fiction if you want, but if you do, at least give me a starting point.

Listen, I’m going to be blogging every damn day for the next fifty-four days whether you like it or not, and you can either give me a topic you’d actually be interested in reading about, or leave it up to me to decide if that’s the day I want to talk about how horrible my lady cramps are. (And they ARE. But I’m not blogging about that. Yet.)

UNLESS YOU SPECIFICALLY TELL ME NOT TO, I’ll credit you as the grand suggester of the topic for the day. I’m giving myself veto-power over topics, but I’ll try to use it sparingly. I want this to be fun for EVERYONE. Mostly me. All you have to do to suggest a topic is leave a comment.

Pretend you are at camp, too! A camp where someone decides to hand you their creative process for two months so that they don’t have to worry about it anymore! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand GO!!!

*If you have never had a coconut water after some type of physical activity I HIGHLY suggest you give it a try, just don’t get Zico, the stuff tastes like feet and has added crap in it, go with Naked, IT IS DELICIOUS.