Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Perks of Starting From Scratch

There are few things that are scarier for writers than a blank page and a blinking cursor.

Well, okay, I may be exaggerating slightly, but blank pages are pretty intimidating. And there's something about starting a brand new project that is just plain daunting; there's a sense, with every new novel, that you have to go back to square one and figure out how to write all over again.

I think this feeling intensifies somewhat when that new novel is a complete and total rewrite of an old novel. On top of feeling like you're starting over entirely, you feel a bit like a failure for having put so much time into something that is just, well, not good.

Rewriting isn't evil, though. I've found it's actually incredibly helpful. And that first attempt isn't a failure. Yeah, it's not right, but there are things that can be salvaged and any writing that you do is going to help you learn how to write better (even if you always feel like starting at square one with each new novel. Neil Gaiman and John Green feel like that, it's gonna be fine).

Those of you who have been about the blog for a long time probably know about my manuscript, A Terror of Darkness, which is about 67,000 words and is about a girl who teams up with a werewolf to break her family out of prison in Revolutionary France.

The first iteration of that novel... wasn't about that.

Almost everything about that novel has changed since I wrote the very first words of it in high school. The title changed. Rose and Avar had different names (sort of; Rose and Avar were their nicknames in Version 1). It was set in rural France about twenty years before the Revolution rather than in Paris at the height of the Terror. It involved a lot of wandering around in the woods figuring out magic stuff.

And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. I mean 163,000 words' worth of wandering around in the woods.

... yeah.

Obviously, this first draft was Not Good. I had to radically change almost everything about the manuscript to turn it into something that I truly feel is publishable.

And yet, that first iteration of Rose and Avar's story is probably the first "not good" manuscript that I wrote and can think back on without having a miniature heart attack. There are things that I really liked from that manuscript that didn't make it into the new version. They didn't work, but they weren't terrible, and I had fun writing them. I learned a lot, somehow, from floundering around in the woods for 163,000 words. And I learned even more from people's feedback on that massive quantity of words. I don't think I could have written the story I am really quite proud of now without that lengthy exercise in not-quite-right-ness that came before it.

I'm also essentially "starting over" with the novel that is to be my senior project, although I didn't quite finish that one. I think it's going to make so much more sense and just feel more "right" once I start it over.

So feel free to start from scratch. It can be kind of fun, rather than completely terrifying. And sometimes it helps you stop wandering around in the woods and figure out the story you're actually trying to tell.


  1. Other Caitlin, I'm totally at where YOU'RE at! Starting over with Robyn Hood for *hysterical laughter* the third time was terrifying, but I just had all these intense scenes for it coming at me like flying bloody bullets, so I had to do SOMETHING with them.

    Like you say, fun ... but terrifying. I'm 100% sure Rose and Avar's story is better for all the hard work you've put in, and you'll feel better knowing it's the best it can possibly be :D

    1. Oh, absolutely! I LOVE the way that Rose and Avar's story is right now. I think it's a very strong story, and hopefully one that's interesting to read. And it is SO UNFATHOMABLY BETTER than it used to be.

      ... although there was a lot more kissing involved in Version 1. Oops.. :P

  2. Yep. I start over all the time. Before I begin a project, I try to make a list of the things about the book that excite me, that are the absolute (more or less ;) must-keeps. Then with each rewrite or revision, I can keep that before me and make sure I don't lose focus too much.
    Great post!