For most of my life, I worked on the project affectionately known as Wife Novel. I have rewritten it close to two dozen times completely from scratch and it still isn’t something I’d like to show anyone yet. But I bring it up because, I was determined to finish Wife Novel before I was allowed to work on anything else which is why, for the majority of my life, I had almost nothing writing-wise to show for it. I literally wouldn’t let myself commit seriously to any other project until I was finished with that novel.
Finally, in 2009, I decided this strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere and started cheating on Wife Novel with a new book I dubbed Mistress Novel. I finished Mistress Novel and spent several years editing and rewriting it with waves of beta readers between each revision until it felt like maybe it was something. Then I started querying it mostly just to see what the process was like.
I had never queried a novel before (with Three Oranges, I self-published and then publishers came to me) and I wasn’t 100% sure I was sold on traditional publishing anyway but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to send it out. I honestly expected to just collect rejections until I finished the second book in the series and then I would self-publish. I was most pleasantly surprised when the query process went rather well and the book got some healthy interest.
In the meantime, during the downtime in that revision and query process, I started a variety of other projects, some plays, some novels, some non-fiction and many of these have been finished and published. It wasn’t so much that the creative dam was now open, I’d always had a glut of ideas, but now I was allowing myself to pursue them which was making all the difference. I still struggle with when I should commit to an idea 100% until it’s finished and how much attention the new idea should get but, overall, it’s been a very good thing for my creative life. I now truly have a writing career, something I only had in theory a few years ago.
Unfortunately, the query process for Mistress Novel became completely derailed during 2012, the Year of Much Stress and Doom, literally right in the middle of some opportunities which was kind of sucky. Then I had a baby and, while she is a lovely baby, she doesn’t give me an abundance of free time so I didn’t restart the query process. In Writer’s Digest, so many of the (female) debut authors are like, “Well, I wrote the book and then had a baby so it wasn’t until x years later I had a chance to finish and publish it…” and I realized I was becoming one of those people and it made me sad to be part of a statistic. Wasn’t I supposed to be the exception, the one who isn’t stopped by anything? Sigh.
April 23, 2012 was the last time I made an edit to Mistress Novel and that was for someone I was submitting to. And while that’s a VERY long time to have not touched the story, I was thinking about it on and off that whole time (when your daughter can take up to 3 hours of rocking to fall asleep for that 30 minute nap, there’s time aplenty to think). I finally cracked it back open a few weeks ago in early February for the first time. But here’s where it gets complicated.
I should have just jumped right back into querying, right? Well, no. Because I realized in all that time away from the novel that I was getting a lot more interest than offers which means the book was good… but not good enough. I started to come up with changes and things I thought I would make the story better.
So, idiot that I am, I figured these would be just quick little tweaks that I could do in a few days. I even gave myself a deadline of early March to finish because I thought it would be relatively simple, forgetting that NOTHING with writing is ever as simple as you think it is. Long story short (too late, I know) I find myself faced with a problem.
I had a book that I felt was 95% awesome book but, to make it 100%, I will have to literally rewrite the entire thing. I can use sections of the book as written but, overall, I’ll be reworking just about every single scene to some extent. This is going to be an insane amount of work when I have less time than ever.
It’s also going to be extra difficult because of the sporadic nature of my work time these days. In the past, when I edited something long, like a novel, I would work close to 24/7 until it was done, trying to do the whole project in as compressed a time period as possible because it made it easier to keep the feel of the story and what I wanted in my head as I worked. While I’ve mostly gotten the hang of dropping everything to work/write the second little miss goes to sleep, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to do the same with revision. It takes me so long to get back into the right headspace for the scene I’m supposed to be editing that she’s usually up before I do more than a few lines. I realize that, as with everything else, I will eventually learn how to do on-the-fly editing but, for now, it feels impossible.
I’d be perfectly willing to dive right into all this work if I knew for sure it would be worth it and make the book better but, honestly, I don’t know anything. What if I spend months rewriting the book and it’s worse? The thought of wasting what precious little time I have on this is a tad soul crushing, especially when there are sure things (aka Three Oranges 2) that I could use that time on. (To some extent, this is always my problem with working on fiction. Why waste my time on a novel that may never sell when I’ve got this play, this e-commerce eBook, this whatever shiny thing that I have buyers clamoring for right now?)
I could just say F- it and keep shopping or even self-publish the book as is. But I’m not willing to put anything out there that is not the best that I can do so, if I don’t do this rewrite, it means trashing the whole book which I am NOT willing to do. I still really love this story and these characters and that is why, in the end, I’m going to do this even though the very thought of it makes me want to crawl under a desk and cry. I know people say you have to write a practice book that you’ll end up trashing but, F those people, I love this book and I’m not trashing it.
It’s funny. I’ve rewritten so many things over and over from scratch and it never bothered me like this does. I think that’s just because I made the mistake of thinking of this project as finished when I started querying it. Just the simple mental leap of thinking of it as done has made rewriting it seem like this herculean task when I can start draft 7,000 of Asplode and not bat an eye.
So. Here’s where I am. I’m looking at rewriting Mistress Novel from scratch and, even though I’m committed to doing it, I’m dreading it. I can’t tell if this is normal draft dread or because rewriting it is a terrible idea but I don’t see what choice I have. The only way out is through and I’m going to build something better out of the ashes of the original book no matter what it takes.
Can we fix it? YES WE CAN!