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The four hardest things about rewriting something you thought was finished

by Aug 19, 2014Mistress Novel, On Writing: Craft and Commiseration0 comments

paper ball....

Throwing out digital words is so much less cathartic than the old paper wad (Photo credit: Kat Cole)

“After that there is rewriting. This is worse than merely writing, because not only does he have to think up new things just the same, but at the same time try not to remember the old ones.” -Edward Gorey

Back in March (has it really been FOUR MONTHS since then???), I mentioned that I needed to completely rewrite the project nicknamed Mistress Novel from scratch. To give you the TL; DR recap: My novel was finished and getting agent nibbles but I decided to stop querying because wanted to make what I thought was a small tweak to the backstory of two of the main characters and, what I thought would just be changing a paragraph here and there, actually spiraled into needing to scrap everything and completely start anew.

Or so I thought. I think every writer has experienced the high of thinking you were done with a project for good and handed it in… only to find you needed to completely rewrite it after all.  No matter how strong your ego is or how great your experience level, having to throw out hard work is never easy for anyone. While I’ve rewritten articles, plays and other short projects before, this is the first time I’m rewriting something of this length that I’d previously considered finished and I’m discovering a whole bunch of challenges I never expected. Namely,

  • Trying “not to remember the old ones.” I’ve always loved that Gorey quote I put at the start of this post but it’s never been more relevant to me than with this rewrite. It’s impossible to rewrite a scene without having the original version floating around in the back of your mind. In the same way, it’s confusing to have two plots, new and old, sharing space in your head.
  • Not knowing what, if anything, is worth keeping. At first, I wanted to mostly keep everything I’d written and just salvage it by tweaking it. Then I thought I’d have to toss everything out and start over with a blank page. Now I’m realizing it’s going to be more of a mix of old and new woven together but I’m having a devil of a time trying to figure out what should be scraped and what shouldn’t.
  • Am I making it better… or worse? This rewrite has been a TON of work and I’ve spent many hours on it at a time in my life when time is something I have very little of. Which is why it’s so exasperating to not have any idea if it’s doing any good. It’s entirely possible that I’m doing all this just to make a bigger mess.
  • Why am I doing this all over again? The first time I wrote this story, I was full of fire for it. Now I feel like I’m repeating myself, covering things I did already. It’s making the whole process feel frustrating and futile. And while I understand why I’m doing it in the big picture, in the moment, it’s very hard to make myself rewrite what I know was good scene on its own to make it fit into the new whole. It’s especially depressing to delete whole sections I spent hours editing where I slaved over every word until it was perfect and replacing it with what is essentially new material in rough draft condition.

It’s hard, is what I’m saying, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to quit and walk away. No, now’s the time to get down to work no matter how annoying that work is.

For those of you that have had to rewrite something you’d thought you’d already stuck the proverbial fork in, what are you tips for getting through it?


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About the Author

Hillary DePiano is a playwright, fiction and non-fiction writer who loves writing of all kinds except for writing bios like this.


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