Friday, 12 September 2008

Have coffee, regroup and start again

Hello again, Novel Racers,

A couple of months ago I was at an impasse with my novel. I had thousands of words but I had written all of it out of sequence. Some sections I had written twice because I wasn't sure which way worked best. I spent months trying to weave it all together, but I got a bit lost. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and I was frustrated beyond measure. I felt as if it had to go together somehow but I couldn't see a way to do it. So, in a moment of either clarity or lunacy, I decided to start again. I decided that the only way was to start at page one and only include sections that were relevant, funny and fresh. I ended up incorporating much of what I wrote originally and I was stunned when it came together quickly. I still haven't finished it but I have a clear idea of where it's going.

Here's what I would like to know: Have any of you made the decision to murder your darlings and begin again? How did you come to the decision and what was the end result? How do you know when it's time to give up and start fresh?

Have a great week everyone!


liz fenwick said...

Good question......I have definately murdered my darlings but totally scrapped no. I would working through D. Maass writing the Breakout Novel Workbook really helpful for knowing when to kill and when to creat - that and cp's comments on pace.

Congrats on having the strength to commit murder :-)

I look forward to hearing what the other racers have done.

Fiona said...

I think I am on the verge of doing it your way and what a brave way that is. You've given me hope.
I have three POVs. I don't have the experience to write like this but I don't want to throw away 120k but I know that nothing is wasted. I can pull things out of my writing recycle bin.

Well done you. Btw, how long has it taken you to do this?

Great post. Thank you.

DOT said...

I've been writing in much the same way. For me it is inevitable as I suddenly hear a conversation that a couple of the characters are having and need to get it down. I have a clear idea of the thread of the story so I know those conversations might be relevant later. Similarly and event that might be relevant pops into my head.

Again, like fiona, I have been writing from a number of POVs. This is starting to get me into difficulties and I do have to resist the temptation to start re-writing till I have the completed the first, very rough, draft of the book. Or, I fear, I will never complete it.

liz fenwick said...

Fiona and DOt - I had three pov for the first draft of ACH. When I looked at the the draft i realized it would be much stronger with two. AS I came to each scene with the unnecessary pov I asked myself - what info is being conveyed? is it necessary to the story? If yes how can I do it without being in this characters head?

At the beginning of the process I would cut and paste into a separate file - it made me feel better about killing all those words. By the time I was half way through I had better sense of whether they would be needed so either used them then and there or just cut. Ruthless aren't I :-)

Kate said...

Oh, I can speak from experience here. Recent experience. I wrote 33,000 words of what was going to be my Book 7 from February to April this year (writing full-time, so quite a lot of work, plus I’d started planning from the December). And I had a horrible feeling about it all the way through. I was going through a bit of a glum patch, no real reason, maybe a bit of SAD, and I just dreaded writing it. But I ploughed on as the idea was quite good, I thought. By April I was really fed up with it, so sent it to agent and editor. Agent felt I could work with it, but editor was of similar opinion to me. lacked my usual ‘bounce’ apparently. So I ditched the lot. Scary decision as it’s made all my deadlines much tighter, but then I began the new novel after a couple of weeks’ break and finished it last week. OK, it’s out with editor and agent at the moment, but they’ve both read a partial and felt it was much more ‘me’ so fingers crossed.
I think it was timing above all. No idea is lost or wasted, it’s just you need to be in the right emotional place to write a book and this one had a negative aspect to it that I couldn’t turn into comedy. In a few years, it might work better – or as a script or something? Funny thing was, I ‘knew’ but ploughed on. So I think trusting instincts is really important.
Kate xx

CC Devine said...

I've had to hack big chunks of writing out of my wip and I'm getting better at being more ruthless about it but have never totally started again. I've rejigged the work from third person to first and back again but that wasn't. I agree with Fiona that nothing is wasted - either you can recycle bits of it later (or in a different novel) or it has served it help you focus and think of it as writing practice.

Am impressed with Liz and Kate for being brave and going for it! Agree with you, Kate, that sometimes you need to trust your gut feeling.

Anonymous said...

I think when fresh ideas kept coming into my head that I realised I wasn't totally happy with the plot! I almost murdered the book once but I'm sticking with it afterall.

Hope it all works out for you.
CJ xx

NoviceNovelist said...

Thanks Helen - a good topic. You've raised another point in there that I'm currently dealing with - to plot beforehand or just write. I've just begun my second novel as I'm not sure what to do with my first - the story is finished but like you (and others) I'm not sure it is in the right order or has all the neccessary bits so I'm avoiding it! I've started novel no 2 and am trying to do a blend of plotting and writing to see if I can avoid ending up in the same hole again.

I've just bought the Donald Maass book as Liz has talked about it in such a positive way - so I'm hopeful. I feel I could be on the verge of murdering 90,000 words but I'm coming round to the fact that may be ok!!!! I feel I need to go where the energy is and it's not currently with novel 1. Good luck with yours!

Debs said...

I have completely re-written my second novel from first to third person.

With my first book, I re-read it and hated the beginning and deleted 25k words. It was a little scary, but was far better by doing that.


Helen said...

I haven't actually murdered anyone or anything yet, but I have a feeling a lot of my first novel, if I carry on with it (and I'm feeling like I would like to do that more and more) will be butchered with many words removed.

JJ said...

Great topic Helen. I murdered the whole ms from last year: 25,000 words. The story hasn't gone away but I wasn't able to move it forward (time? Mood? Set in Bangkok, so maybe I was too close to it? Who knows?) An idea came to me while in the UK in May time which got me really excited. Characters came into my head talking. So I put aside the first one - which I learned from - and started again.

I sometimes worry that 'novel racing' makes me think just about number of words. I have to be conscious always that extraneous words should go. So if I cut ... I feel good about tightening the writing up.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I rewrote a novel from third to first person and subsequently had it published, so the restructuring and rewriting was well worth it. And I have abandoned projects - 20k into a sci-fi sequel when the publisher got cold feet about the first book and I couldn't find anyone else. But that was more to do with not wanting to invest time in something that wouldn't see the light of day when other projects I had on the go would. Much the same with the spy novels. Once the first one went out of print and no one would take any of the others, I'm left with two complete manuscripts and three others invarious stages of completion. One publisher did advise me to wait until 2020 when they would be sufficiently retro to be popular so I might finish them at some point on the off chance.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I have lost count of the number of novels I've murdered. However, I've never yet tried to revive a dead one. I enjoy the pruning part of editing, and am always willing to ditch a delightful word/sentence/paragraph/scene/character etc if I can see that the rest will be stronger as a result.


Alas like Ziniia I have lost count of the number of murders I have cmmitted but like to think of them more as humane killing. Several of my characters have killed themselves off some in quite dramatic circumstances. I think there comes a time in wriitng, as in relationships, when you suddenly realise that no matter how hard to try it isnt working and its better to give up and start afresh.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Never totally scrapped, but I've rewritted three of my novels completely. "An Ungodly Child" was a complete mess in the beginning, but a complete re-write sorted it out. "Nephilim's Child" was re-written three times - once because it was rubbish, once to fit in with what an editor wanted and once for myself.

Kate.Kingsley said...

My first novel isn’t dead, but it is in a coma ~ I’ve abandoned it for now as I had painted myself into a corner with it, but a recent drunken brainstorming session with the husband has given me some new material, so I will be going back to give it another go one day.

But this is a very timely topic with regard to my current WIP ~ I didn’t plot extensively before I started, and as the characters and action have progressed I’ve realised that I need to rewrite large section of the beginning, and chop out some bits altogether, as they have no relevance to the way things have developed. I’ve been putting it off for a while, as I don’t know if I’m brave enough to slaughter them in cold blood, but from reading all the comments so far I realise that I just have to put them out of their misery!

Rowan Coleman said...

Hello all, a bit late to coffee today - soz. Like Kate, I did ditch 50K of my fourth book - scapped it completely and started again with a totally new idea. I'd ploughed on with it for several months even though, again like Kate, I'd planned it, plotted it and discussed with my editor - but it seemed to fall flat on every page and I just wasn't feeling it. Having made the descision to dump it and start with a new fresh idea suddenly everything seemed much better, I looked forward to writing instead of dreading it. The ideas and words seemed to flow - and I wrote THE ACCIDENTAL MOTHER which proved to be an important book for me leading to my first international publishing deals and getting me inside the top 15 of the charts for the first time ever. Also on my last book THE ACCIDENTAL WIFE I cut about 40K words although I stayed with the idea and the characters because I loved them. I'm all for cutting or ditching ideas if they aren't working or they are bogging you down - there's something freeing and even thrilling about it....its the buzz of knowing you are embarking on a new and unknown path I think....or maybe I'm weird. Rx

Flowerpot said...

Yes I have - and it's hard work! I agree with what Rowan says though. It can be quite exciting doing a hatchet job!!

Juliette M said...

Currently doing just that. I wrote the Jessica book (245 pages on Word) out of sequence during my MA degree and now it's not only 10 years out of date but complete bobbins. The characters and general plot overview are good so I want to keep them but half of the scenes are just fluff filler put in to keep my MA tutor happy! So yes... murdering a lot of that and getting on with making it shiny and new.

Thanks for not booting me off the Racers' list while I've been on hiatus - I really appreciate it and hope I can be back on track now. (Maybe I should get a webgoblin like Neil Gaiman...)

KAREN said...

I had to put my first-ever novel out of its misery. I kept trying to revive it because I couldn't bear to think of all that wasted effort, but I wasted more time trying to make it 'right'! Kate's advice about following your instincts is true. There's no point flogging a dead horse :o)

L-Plate Author said...

Well as most of you know I've just taken the decision to scrap my first book completely and then 25k of the new one I was working on.

When I was writing my first book with my previous agent it went from 100k to 126k to 145k and down again to 90k. I added words, I deleted words and it lost its freshness I suppose. I also realise now that I was writing the wrong type of book.

The characters in those books will make appearances in other novels I'm sure and the plotline of my first book is still useable so I now have a five book plan to incorporate all those things. I'm just going to start drafting a new book, which will now be my book two.

I think it is all good experience though, nothing is ever lost.

Great topic x

KayJay said...

I've killed off characters and scrapped or rewritten a few chapters and subplots, but never completely started again. The idea is terrifying!

I'm fascinated to know more about how you could do this if you've already written so much. I think I'd find it incredibly difficult if I'd written more than say, 15,000 words. I suppose if I really hated what I'd created...but it seems that those who have done it have actually thought there was something of value in what they'd done, but they needed to tell it differently.

I take my hat off to those people but the idea makes me shiver!

Caroline said...

I ditched 26k words of novel 2, kept 2k words and that became Black Boxes.

Go with your instinct and be brutal, sometimes when we fight these urges it slows us to a stop.

Anonymous said...

I haven't ever completely trashed a project and started again. Yet.
What I do a lot of though, is to reorganise work across different writing projects. For example, a short story I wrote became the start of a novel. Another example is where parts of two separate projects got merged into one.

Because I do a lot of shuffling about of material within projects and between projects, it's important for me to be very thorough about organising my files. For this I make frequent use of some of the more advanced word-processing features, such as: shareable sections, storyboards, master/sub documents, character sheets, maps and other drawings etc.

What would it take for me to completely bin a project and start again? I think the short answer is: quite a lot. I'm a great believer in re-use; something I had instilled into me as a software developer. I would urge other authors to seriously consider reviving and/or reorganising, before committing something to the shredder.

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Calistro said...

I'm finding this topic fascinating - again it's another really pertinent one. I've written 20K of novel 2 but my gut instinct is saying "Nooooo". I'm just not in love with it like I was with novel #1. Novel #3 (which is plotted but not written) I AM in love with but it's not paranormal like novel #1 so wouldn't sit well with it if I were to get a 2 book deal. Am thinking of scrapping what I've done so far of novel #2and starting again. Same title and a similar plot line but different characters. Am heartened that both Kate and Rowan completely scrapped books and started again without being murdered by their agents, although if I suddenly disappear off the face of the planet you know why ;o)!

Clare Sudbery said...

Giving up and starting again... I suspect it's a great idea when you're stuck like that. I've heard loads of tales of people doing it and feeling liberated by it.

Instead what I've done is rewrite ovels several ytimes when halfway through, but I've always used bits of what I already had and never totally started from scratch, and the results have been kind of messy. I wish I'd had the courage to start again totally from scratch.

Annieye said...

Sometimes it's the only thing to do. I think I read in one of the recent Writing Mags that someone (a published author) writes each chapter as a separate file, prints them off into a separated sections and then only puts it together at the end.

I am suspect I'm going to have to do some serious re-writing with my novel and sequel, because my protagonist is a man and, apparently, I need 'a strong central female character the reader can get behind and root for'.

wordtryst said...

A whole week late... I think I'm setting a record here, even for me.

I've done amputations but no, never murdered one of my babies. I did throw away a story I was fond of because the main characters were easily recognizable, then I regretted it and rewrote the whole thing. It just wasn't the same, though. I've always felt the first version was much, much better.

Like the captain, I've had a longer work come out of a much shorter piece: an essay on my great-grandmother formed the core and the inspiration for my current WIP, which is fiction.