Snip, snip, cut, cut . . . back to the drawing board

This part is the shameless self promotion part: My new book, Bitter Night, is releasing about a week and a half. I’m very excited. I love this book a lot. It’s getting a lot of good reviews and buzz already, which is very nice. But (and here’s where we get to the point of this blog) I’m feeling a little bit paralyzed about writing the sequel.

I thought that in writing the sequel that it would be easy to sink down into the story again and go. It usually is. I know exactly what I want to do, but unfortunately, the story isn’t quite cooperating. In fact, I’ve had to scrap all I’ve written and start again. This is no easy decision. I have been fighting it for some while, but I realized that I wasn’t writing anymore. Something inside me recognized that the work was fractured–there was something not quite working and I couldn’t move forward because of it.

I thought about it for awhile and decided on a restart. This time I’m still not sure I’m completely on the right track, but I do know it’s more right than the last one and now I can at least go forward. I’m one of those writers who write linearly–I write from beginning to end and can’t write later scenes until the earlier ones are written. That also means that I can’t manage to go forward unless I’m on a solid foundation. If I don’t have the beginning right, then I have to go back and rework it until it’s right enough to allow me to go forward.

But of course the problem then is that it’s really hard to just trash a bunch of novel and start from scratch. All that work down the drain and nothing to show for it! Sigh. And certainly I am not trashing quite all of it. Some of it I will recycle I’m sure, but most of it has to go away. And really, that’s as it should be. I don’t want the earlier mindset to taint the new writing. It was wrong after all.

This is something that most writers suffer through at one point or another and really, you can’t be afraid to throw away the stuff that isn’t working. Or really, save it and put it away and then start anew. After all, some time it might come in handy or you might find a new way of using it. It hurts, but if it has to be done, do it quickly and start fresh.

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  1. 1. Raethe

    That sucks. I’ve got 20k of a novel draft that I might have to throw out and start over, so I know what you mean. But hey, if it gets you to the next step…

    No work is ever wasted. That’s what I tell myself, anyway :)

  2. 2. Elias McClellan

    Disclaimer: I’m not so pretentious to offer advice. This is a question for my own benefit. Have either of you (or anyone reading this post) left the project at hand to work on something else? I’m a little further along than Raethe and I can see the down hill run. I’m was just stuck on tying up the sub-plots. I started on a series of short stories and now I think I found my way. Just wondering about the experiences of those on the deadline, you know, the pros.

  3. 3. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Elias~

    When there’s time and when i can force myself, I try other projects. But frankly, I have a tendency to bullheadedly stay focues on the project until I can figure my way through. But taking time away is very much a useful way of dealing with getting stuck.

  4. 4. Raethe

    Elias: Actually, the project I mentioned above is one that I’ve decided to put to the side for a while. I intend to come back to it, or the premise and characters at least, but I’m working on a couple of other projects in the interim.

    Of course, I’m an amateur writer without deadlines, so I have the luxury to do that.

    (Did I just equate being an unpublished writer with luxury? Huh.)

  5. 5. Elias McClellan

    Raethe, yes you did and yes I agree. I, for one, am not ready yet. For the pressure, stress, deadlines, or the fast-pitch, fast-sell. I’ve started about five novels and only just finished one. After workshoping it, I found that I loved it too much to submit it. I knew changes would be necessary and I was/am unwilling to compremise. The one I’m close to finishing now, is less dear to me as it will be the second one that I’ve completed and I’m far more objective about changes.

  6. 6. Diana Pharaoh Francis

    Elias~ That’s really impressive that you understand the thickness of your own skin regarding your work. Best of luck to you!

  7. 7. Elias McClellan

    Ms. Francis, thank you for you miss-guided praise. But it’s more a matter of being dazzled by my own wit and charm. Look up Narcissus in a modern English dictionary and you’ll see my unlovely face smiling and waving back at you. Truly, I don’t sweat the rejection letters, I’m building a nice collection from SF&F Magazine, alone.

    In my pipe-dreams, THEY (the evil editors, buyers, agents) want to change the age, ethnic-group, and/or setting of my little ditty. I love my book, I love my character, and everything I put into it. But I also want… need to get published. It’s that, or face the hell that is law-school; at 40. So, I can be had. I just don’t want to whore on the first book I managed to complete.

    Again, in all seriousness, thank you for your kind encouragement.

  8. 8. Liane Merciel

    Yup, I’ve been there. Am doing first-pass revisions (before it goes to agent/editor) on a manuscript where I threw out the _entire first draft_ because it was broken and unfixable. 110K words — the better part of a year’s work, since I’m not a particularly fast writer — into the crapper. It wasn’t fun, but it had to go.

    I think the new version is better but I’m currently in the “aaagh I hate it I hate it MAKE IT DIE” stage so I don’t really trust my own opinions right now. Even if the new draft is not actually any better, though, I’m too close to deadline to throw it all out again. Which is just a _fantastic_ thing to realize, boy howdy.

  9. 9. David B. Coe

    Di, I know we’ve talked about this before, but our work habits are so similar it’s frightening. I’m linear, I polish as I write, so I’m a bit slow with the first draft, but my drafts are clean. And I absolutely HATE having to start over, because even 15,000 words represents a lot of work and time. And I find it hard to work on more than one project at once, though I’m getting better with that.

    I find that when I face a problem like yours it means that I’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. For me, when a story is working, it flows. When I’m struggling, it means that on some level I know the set up isn’t right and needs reexamination. I hope you get things on the right track; I know how frustrating it is when a books isn’t working, especially a sequel, and ESPECIALLY a book with a firm and imminent deadline.

Author Information

Diana Pharaoh Francis

Diana Pharaoh Francis has written the fantasy novel trilogy that includes Path of Fate, Path of Honor and Path of Blood. Path of Fate was nominated for the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award. Recently released was The Turning Tide, third in her Crosspointe Chronicles series (look also for The Cipher and The Black Ship). In October 2009, look for Bitter Night, a contemporary fantasy. Diana teaches in the English Department at the University of Montana Western, and is an avid lover of all things chocolate. Visit site.

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