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The hardest part of rewriting a book is letting go of the earlier versions

by Feb 19, 2015Mistress Novel, My Writing, On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Word Count Updates and Writing Goals0 comments

Back in 2009, I finished the project nicknamed Mistress Novel. I rewrote and revised it until it was as good as I could make it on my own and sent it to Beta readers in April 2011. I made another round of extensive edits based on that feedback and had a “finished” version I started to query in the summer of 2011. I was pleasantly surprised by how the query process went and things were happening… but then life hit me like a truck in the start of 2012 (which is a funnier metaphor if you’ve read Mistress Novel as a truck crash features prominently). Family health crises, loved ones dying, whooping-cough and a pregnancy… it was an insane year and I put the whole query process on hold until I got back on my feet.

But, as time passed, I started to obsess that something was missing from the book, a theme that was very important to me but apparently wasn’t clear enough based on reader feedback. I couldn’t go back to shopping it until I made what I thought were a few simple tweaks. Long story short, I realized that there is really no such thing as “a few simple tweaks” when it comes to theme and what I really needed to do was rewrite the whole book from scratch. Burn it down and start over so that a better version of my story could rise from the ashes.

Easier said than done, as it turns out. I did close to 10 versions of the book with the original plot and it’s pretty cemented in my mind which made it a lot harder than I thought to completely reinvent the book. I’d come to peace with trashing everything, even the stuff I knew was good, in service of the big picture but the old version kept coming back from the grave. It was dragging the story down and I couldn’t figure out how to break free and take a new version out for a spin. I rewrite first drafts from scratch all the time but this was so much harder because of its past publishing prospects and previous drafts.

elsa frozen photo

Elsa could tell you all about it…


As I write this, I have just completed the rewrite of Mistress Novel. It’s the same characters, same basic theme, but the story is completely different. It’s a true rewrite and it was hard-won. It’s also basically a first draft all over again and will involve a TON of revising before it’s ready for readers but the hardest part, leaving the old story behind and creating a totally new version, is done. For the first time since I started this mess, I can actually see the way forward, even if it’s a long way off still, and that’s a great feeling after spending so much time stumbling around in the dark.

If anyone is in this same situation, I’m going to be detailing exactly what I did to break free of the original version and totally rewrite this book in a series of future posts. For now, let me tell you, it all boils down to that Frozen favorite: Let It Go. If you’re going to truly rewrite a book and make it the best it can be, you need to understand that you’re going to have to let go of everything, good and bad. It’s much harder than killing your darlings from a first draft, I’ll tell you that, but the rewards can be well worth it of you truly believe in your story and want it told the best way possible.

PS: I somehow passed 50,000 words for February back on the 16th because of all the work I did on Mistress Novel. I don’t even know what to say about that other than I seem to be proving the old Chris Baty maxim that objects in motion stay in motion. Anyway, here’s where I am for the year at the moment:


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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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