Starting (almost) from scratch


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  1. #1

    Starting (almost) from scratch

    I wrote my first novel.

    I am in the middle of writing my first novel.

    Yep, I realize the contradiction of those two statements. So here's the situation...

    Setting the way back machine to...well, quite some time ago... I had an idea. It bounced around in my head until it became a story, and then I wrote it. At first I was too busy being utterly astonished I had actually completed a novel (and a little burned out), so it just sat there for almost a year before I actually went back and read it.

    And it was terrible.

    I mean, the story wasn't terrible. At least I don't think so. Rather, how I wrote it was terrible. The way the story formed in my head was in the first person, so that's how I wrote it. However, for this story, I realized that just didn't work. At all. It required too much exposition in the form of characters coming up to the main character with stuff like "so this happened to me..."

    Plus the scope of the story is large enough that it really needs the perspective of some of the other characters.

    So here I am, completely rewriting this book. From the ground up. I'm converting it to the third person (oh hey... look at my user name...). And in some ways, this feels almost harder than initially writing the book. This is way more than minor surgery. It's more like removing the brain from the patient and growing an entirely new body to put it in.

    The hardest part is staying motivated. After all, I've already TOLD this story. So I keep having to set it aside so that I can come back to it and it feels fresh again. Which is part valid and part excuse.

    Anyone else been there? As in not just fixing some things here and there, but literally faced with rewriting almost every word?

  2. #2
    My experience was almost identical. Almost.

    I banged out 88,000 words without any problems at all. So I thought at the time.

    I let it rest for a month. I had plenty to do studying grammar and writing in general. It was a bit of a shock reading it again. The story was good but my writing was not so good. Pretty shite, to be honest.

    I tried to edit it scene by scene and it wasn't working. What does work, at least for me, is a re-write--scene by scene. I printed it out and read the first scene. Then I put it aside and wrote that scene again, and so on. Still going at it now. Lol. It's all taking longer than I thought, but now I'm on to something.

    Then it can go through beta-readers and more editing.
    The problem with understanding people is: the more you understand, the less you will believe in miracles.

  3. #3
    Prior to my current WIP I'd written and completed three novels plus one novella (the first 'novel' was in this territory) and they were all mostly crap. Not the ideas, but the writing, and unfortunately there is no meaningful difference.

    So that was almost half a million words. For 'nothing'. Do I care? No, I don't. Always remember this is about the journey and not the destination. If your only source of satisfaction is finishing, you will never be happy. Enjoy the end when it comes, but don't wish it sooner, lest you be like one of those kids who spent most of their best years wishing they were old.

    Saying "the story was good but the writing sucked" is like saying "the car is fast but the engine doesn't work". The writing is the story, just as much as the idea is. They are two halves of the same sandwich. Saying "it was a good idea but the execution was lacking" might make you feel better, but its fundamentally dishonest: nobody besides you will ever care about your idea if you cannot express it well. Having good ideas isn't the hard part. Putting them into words is the hard part.

    So, yeah it sucks and I think everybody can relate, but it's part of the fun, unfortunately. Probably the best way to look at it is not that you are redoing work you have already done but rather that you had never 'done' it the first time around. Try to put yourself in the mindset that this is an ongoing project that will require a hell of a lot of work. More than anything, that you had ever written "The End" should probably be forgotten about as quickly and absolutely as possible. Because you don't get to finish the story, the story finishes itself...or it finishes you.
    "If you don't like my peaches, don't shake my tree."

    "Perhaps I write for no one. Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow."

    “Remember this: Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him. ”

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  4. #4
    I keep trying to tell myself that rather than a first draft that I'm having to rewrite, instead I'm just working off of a really ridiculously detailed and extensive set of notes... heh

  5. #5
    The first three novels I wrote combined to 600,000 words. They were all crap. Sure, there was a marked improvement from one to the other, but none of them will ever see light of day. Do I care? No, because, like Luckyscars, I've accepted that those novels were written solely to make me a better writer and not for anyone to ever read. And that is a harsh truth that many aspiring authors cannot seem to comprehend, much less accept.

    Your first novel will always be the most important one you will ever write -- not because it's great, but because you've taken the first step on a journey that will hopefully span years and potentially decades. Trust me, five years from now you'll open Word (or whatever word processor you use) and take a trip down memory lane. For the first time in years, you'll re-read that initial attempt at creating a novel and think, "What the hell was I smoking when I wrote that?". I did this recently and had quite a chuckle. But I was glad I had someone in my life at the time I wrote it who was honest with me and said, "It's okay, but you can do better".

    The toughest part of writing is realising that we can do better. And to do better, you have to be willing to write through the crap until you get to the good stuff. If I could offer you one piece of advice, it would be to disabuse yourself of the belief that work which never sees light of day is a waste of time and words. It's not. A footballer will strike thousands of free-kicks over the bar in training just to give him/herself the chance to strike one in the back of the net when it really matters.
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    "It is better to be feared than loved, if one cannot be both". ~ Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince.

    "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer". ~ Bruce Lee.

    "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few". ~ Shunryu Suzuki.

    "Give a man a mask and he will show you his true face". ~ Oscar Wilde.

    "He who learns but does not think is lost; he who thinks but does not learn is in great danger". ~ Confucius.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    I wrote my first novel.

    I am in the middle of writing my first novel.

    Yep, I realize the contradiction of those two statements. So here's the situation...

    Setting the way back machine to...well, quite some time ago... I had an idea. It bounced around in my head until it became a story, and then I wrote it. At first I was too busy being utterly astonished I had actually completed a novel (and a little burned out), so it just sat there for almost a year before I actually went back and read it.

    And it was terrible.

    I mean, the story wasn't terrible. At least I don't think so. Rather, how I wrote it was terrible. The way the story formed in my head was in the first person, so that's how I wrote it. However, for this story, I realized that just didn't work. At all. It required too much exposition in the form of characters coming up to the main character with stuff like "so this happened to me..."

    Plus the scope of the story is large enough that it really needs the perspective of some of the other characters.

    So here I am, completely rewriting this book. From the ground up. I'm converting it to the third person (oh hey... look at my user name...). And in some ways, this feels almost harder than initially writing the book. This is way more than minor surgery. It's more like removing the brain from the patient and growing an entirely new body to put it in.

    The hardest part is staying motivated. After all, I've already TOLD this story. So I keep having to set it aside so that I can come back to it and it feels fresh again. Which is part valid and part excuse.

    Anyone else been there? As in not just fixing some things here and there, but literally faced with rewriting almost every word?


    I have rewritten 2 books from the ground-up, simply because they were not all that they could be.
    They were not badly written, I just thought they should have been...more...better...?
    What I always hated about rewriting a book was trying to keep track of the difference between what I wanted to bring over from the OLD book, and what I had already written in the NEW book.
    Sometimes I'd forget to write a critical element because I thought I'd already written it...only to realize that I wrote that in the OLD book.
    Uggghhh.




    One cool thing about being an Indie; before I published the new version, I had Amazon print me out a copy of the first version, fully bound and formatted.
    So now on my shelf, I have print copies of both versions in case I ever wanna compare the two.

  7. #7
    I spent the past week rewriting a chapter from the start. I had already rewritten at least once. And when I got near the end, I realized this morning . . . I needed to AGAIN rewrite it from the start.

    So, it was nonfiction, but yeah.

    Just a thought -- change your story to each scene in first person from another character's perspective. Then you still get the first person from the main character that you apparently wanted, you get to add on the scenes that were "missing" from your original story, and -- as far as I know -- you will love how the other characters can add depth to your story. I did.

    I respect you making so much effort to write your story well.
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  8. #8
    Member KHK's Avatar
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    When I've got the first idea for my book, I sat down and started writing. Furiously. I could not be dragged away from the computer. When I went to a cottage with friends and family for the Christmas holidays, I took the laptop and kept going at it, with everyone looking at me oddly.
    And then, one not so bright morning, I realized that nothing I was trying to say was original, or even fresh. That I've already read all that somewhere, written by other people - and much better than I would ever be able to.
    I called myself a graphomaniac, and quit cold turkey.

    That was in 2013 (damn, how quickly the time flies!).

    Then, last year my daughter convinced me to revisit that book.
    When I re-read it, surprisingly, I found several segments that made me go, "Hmm, this is actually not half as bad as I remembered it!" - but those were very few and far between.
    On the most part, it was sad, pathetic crap.

    So there I was, 6 years older, more experienced, more well-read, with a better sense of the language, and far more cynical.
    I ended up completely restructuring the book, throwing out one of the two story lines altogether (maybe it will form a prequel some day... maybe not), and rewriting large portions of it.

    I am now at around 90K words, about 2/3 completed.

    And am not even thinking about whether or not it is going to be published some day. I'm in it for the joy of the process. It's the Dao, of a sort: the goal is not important, it's the road that matters.
    I love it how some time later I revisit the earlier parts of the text, see them with fresh eyes, and keep polishing it (hopefully making it better, not worse).
    My only fear is that I will never consider it fully completed, and keep coming back again and again. But since I already realize this now, I hope to be able to put a hard stop on this asymptotic approximation of the perfection

    Bottom line: I think it's a good thing you're trying to improve the quality of your book. This means it matters to you. And if it didn't - why even bother writing it?

  9. #9
    Member Sir-KP's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    The hardest part is staying motivated. After all, I've already TOLD this story.
    I know that feeling (probably). It's because you've poured your mind out that now you are sort of 'done with it'.

    I personally hate redoing something from scratch. But if I had to do it your way, I think it's still fresh and interesting because I would be telling the story from another perspective.

    Especially from first person to third person. That should be very liberating.

    Quote Originally Posted by InTheThirdPerson View Post
    Anyone else been there? As in not just fixing some things here and there, but literally faced with rewriting almost every word?
    I've done a rewrite on my first WIP. It was more like an overhaul from the ground up. A genre shift, with many more characters and events popping up.

    The second WIP story I'm currently doing had a couple overhaul in the story and swapping protagonist between the main characters.

    Things like this are always frustrating, but IMO we should cherish it, because this means the idea is developing in our head instead of being a dead mess.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Sir-KP View Post
    I know that feeling (probably). It's because you've poured your mind out that now you are sort of 'done with it'.

    I personally hate redoing something from scratch. But if I had to do it your way, I think it's still fresh and interesting because I would be telling the story from another perspective.

    Especially from first person to third person. That should be very liberating.
    So that's the thing. The part that's proving the most difficult is the sections that require the least amount of reworking -- that is, the parts from the perspective of the character who was originally the first person main character. It's the "I've already done this and I'm done" feeling. But yes, the new bits -- looking at the story from the perspective of other characters -- is what's keeping me going.

    I think part of what is making this whole process difficult is forcing myself to stay within the "first draft" mentality. That is, focus on getting it finished. My brain keeps trying to edit when I need it to write.

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