I recently scrapped a polished, praised “finished” draft and completely rewrote it from scratch. I found almost no articles to help with this kind of extensive rewrite despite the fact that it has to be more common than anyone would admit. Surely I am not the first writer to realize the bones of the story were right but they had the skeleton together all wrong many drafts later. To that end, I thought it would be helpful to detail exactly what I did to get to this point, in the order I did it, in the event it would help anyone else battling through this same rewriting struggle.
I didn’t think to write down dates to give you an idea of how long I was stuck in each stage but I can tell you that, though it took me close to a year to get to from deciding it needed to be rewritten to having a complete rewritten draft in my hands, there was a lot of putting it down for a few months to work on something else. There’s no doubt I could haven been faster about this rewrite if I had needed to be. But I did waste my time trying things that I realize now I didn’t need and I’m hoping this post will save you that time.
I’ll dive into the stuff that did work in future post but, in the meantime, here’s what did not work at all…
The Brute Force Method
Like a student of the Nike school of writing, I decided to Just Do It. I opened a new blank document and started typing as if it was a brand new book. I was hoping I would just magically come up with a different way of telling the story and would be able to go from there.
It didn’t work. I forced myself to stick with it for a full third of the book just in case the problem was me and not the method but I finally had to admit that it wasn’t gonna happen this way. Part of the issue was that it was killer on creativity. All I kept thinking as I wrote was, UGH, I wrote this part already. There was no spark, just rehashing stuff I’d already done in a new, crappier way. It finally devolved into me just grabbing the best bits from the other version and trying to write around them which wasn’t in the spirit of reinvention.
The Brute Force Method was largely a waste of time. The one good thing about it was that it proved to me, once and for all, that if I was serious about rewriting this book, I was going to have to get serious about throwing absolutely everything from the old version out. It wasn’t going to just happen by staring at a blank page, I needed to do some serious work behind the scenes including a ton of experimentation.
Photo by pikkuanna