How is it Sunday again, gentle viewers? When did the week happen, and how did I miss it?
How I missed it or not, Sunday means it’s writer day round these parts, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the GIFs.
Whenever I go back and read something I wrote a long time ago, I approach the manuscript like this:
I think everyone’s had that experience. Well, writers, anyway. When you sit down to write a manuscript, your brain whirs along thinking, “Wow. This idea is pretty brilliant. This is gonna be great. This idea will rule the world. This novel’s going to get me on Conan. And the NYT bestseller list. And The Daily Show! Yeah, The Daily Show. Jon Stewart‘s awesome. Never mind that he doesn’t have fiction authors on much. Or at all. I’m gonna be awesome. Everyone’s gonna love this.”
Okay, maybe not those exact words, but there’s an effervescence that comes with starting a new project. You sit down with the lightbulb bright above your head, and you go like this:
But then time happens. It goes by, and with it, life. Pretty soon it’s a bunch of years later and your first manuscript is gathering dust somewhere. Most of the time the reason it’s gathering dust is because you realized somewhere along the line that it sucked and you should write something else if you ever wanted to see the light of publication.
That’s about what happened to me. I wrote my first novel over the course of about four years, then the next one in about two and a half after that. I wrote a lot of other things in between. A lot of blog posts and partial novels that were really awful (the partial novels, not the blog posts…I hope). When I finally finished the second half of the second book and plowed through the first half of the third (this was a trilogy), it took a lot of steam.
My First Mistake
Honestly? Sitting on the first book for three years. I finished it in 2008. If I’d really worked and tried to learn about revision and editing THEN, it might have gotten published. Instead, I was oddly tunnel-vision about getting the second book done before I tried to query the first. But hear this, gentle viewers: if I’d tried to get it published back then when the vampire trend was gaining all sorts of momentum and various other physics terms, it might have happened, and I might be in a whole different world now. Or, you know, the same world. But published.
When agent Ginger Clark said, “If you’d brought this to me four years ago, I could have sold it in a heartbeat” at WDC last January, the inside of my head did this:
When someone like that says something to that effect in your direction, it leaves a bit of a sour taste in your mouth. Of course, she hadn’t read the book. This was after hearing my 30 second pitch. Regardless, I left the conference feeling a bit cranky about my own OCD.
My Second Mistake
I didn’t know how the fuck revision worked four years ago. I thought you looked for comma splices and bad grammar. I didn’t fully understand how to wrangle a 120,000 word novel into workable form. (The other invaluable advice given by Ms. Clark? Chop it by 20K. I chopped 25K.) My second draft had consisted of going through the first draft and retyping the entire thing, with a few minor changes. The third was an eentsy bit better, but I still didn’t know how to recognize major structural problems, and I really had no idea what I was doing. My revision process was like throwing confetti on a fire and hoping it would turn to gold.
Like a boss.
I knew nothing about structure aside from what I’d absorbed from reading over the years. Which is to say, stuff was vaguely in the right spot, sort of. But it lacked precision. It lacked oomph. And it lacked quality.
So after realizing these two gargantuan mistakes and a suitable period of chagrin in which I stuffed my rejection letters under a pile of sticky notes on my desk and buried that under a ream of printer paper, I shelved my trilogy.
Until this week.
For whatever reason, I got curious this week. I’m halfway through my current WIP. I have the first draft of my new urban fantasy series just chillin’ while I wait for my brain to distance itself enough to revise it like Christian Bale would in American Psycho. And between writing heaps and heaps of words and games of Bejeweled Blitz (and the day job), I decided to pull out the third, half-finished book in the trilogy just for shits and giggles.
I waded into the manuscript. And not without some trepidation.
Much to my utter shock, it didn’t suck.
Far from it.
After the first ten pages, I wanted to pick myself up and do this:
Not because it was awful, but because it was solid. I’d written it in the tail end of 2011’s NaNoWriMo, and I honestly expected it to be total shite. It wasn’t. Sure, there were some sloppy instances of word choice, but it read smoothly and packed a lot of power behind it. Like I said, it’s a trilogy. And as the final book in said trilogy, there were a lot of loose ends that needed to coalesce into some sort of nicely woven hammock to support the Big Bad Finale.
What I was shocked to see was that I’d accomplished those things much, much better than I had anticipated. Reading it re-convinced me that I’d had something with the idea. The characters had depth and emotion. There were a lot of storylines, but they were woven together seamlessly. And apart from one WTF POV moment, all the voices sounded unique.
After beating myself up for ignoring it for so long, I sobered up and stared at my screen for a while.
Always a glutton for punishment, I went back to the second book.
The beginning made me wince a bit. Not gonna lie. I started writing the second book originally before I started writing the first book (and realized I hadn’t started at the beginning of the real story), so the first chapter was embarrassing. I skipped through about half of it until I got to where I’d left off a few years ago. Where I’d picked it back up in November of 2011, it got good.
And it built to a KILLER finale for a second book.
If I went Hulk Smash after finishing what I had done of the third, finishing the fourth and seeing that it wasn’t, in fact, a steaming pile of dung, created this reaction:
I’d been trying to figure out the Big What Next for a while. I’m still slogging through the Query Trenches with two books queued up to submit as soon as they’re (properly) revised. Now I know what I want to do: resurrect the trilogy.
It has a lot of potential, but it’s going to erm…need heaps of work. The first book and a half will need more or less a page one rewrite. Which, in screenwriter speak, pretty much means start from scratch, you sad, unfortunate bastard.
So that’s what I’m going to do. I still love the story. I love the epic fantasy elements married with the contemporary fantasy setting and paranormal/urban fantasy creatures. Yes, it’s got vampires. Which’ll make it a tough sell. But there are options, and this is a project that will make me feel good.
I like the feeling that I didn’t “waste” 250,000 words of writing.
I love that I’ve found they might be salvageable after all.
My plan? Crawl back into it and see what happens.
So, writers. What have you written and trunked that you later found wasn’t as awful as you thought it was? Anything you want to spruce up (or tear down and rebuild)? Should writers even do this, or should we just keep moving forward?
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