Writing Problems: Rebooting a Story

So the writing project I’m currently putting the majority of my energy into is a novel I began late in my junior year of college. It started as an end of year assignment for an Adolescent Literature Class, and two semesters later morphed into an independent* study with my professor. I worked on it for a while after college, shaped it up as best I could, then tried to find an agent. I failed several times, lost hope, then shelved it.

I used this novel to get into Lesley, but even then I didn’t work on it for years, choosing instead to focus on a new project, Speaksong. Then, about halfway through my graduate degree, I sent the old novel, whose memory still haunted me, to my current mentor to see what he thought. His conclusion: the beginning was kind of boring, but the last third was interesting. Hmm. So I sat on that for a while. I finished my degree, finished Speaksong, started shipping that out to people. Worked on other stuff. But this old novel kept forcing its way up in my mind, until finally I couldn’t ignore it any more. It was time to give it another try.

This is what I knew I had to do when I started on this reboot. First, I needed to shorten the novel. I realize now how repetitive and boring some parts really are, and also I need to get to that interesting final third faster, before I lose the readers. This novel, (originally called Becky since titles are hard but now tentatively named Fairy Story) clocked in at over 40,000 words. I figured I need to shoot for cutting out about 10,000. I also wanted to experiment with changing how the magic in this story (because it’s fantasy, obviously) works.

How am I doing this? I’m retyping the beast, word by word. I’ve split the screen in Scrivener, and am typing as I read through it, figuring out what needs to be altered, what should be rearranged, and what I need to slash out entirely. This involves a lot of scrolling up and down, typing things verbatim, and also writing entirely new scenes to make sure the new parts of the plot connect correctly.

Is it working? Going by chapter numbers, I’ve sliced out two complete chapters. But going by the word count, It’s looking like I’ve ditched at last 5,000 words, more than half of my 10K goal. And I think things are zipping along at a faster pace. I’m getting it down to the meat. Parts are certainly clunky, but I plan on going through at least one more read-through, retooling passages and doing line edits, before I send it off to some critique buds. I’m also clipping along through this process a lot faster than I thought — it’s much easier to cut whole chunks of writing when you haven’t looked at something for years. I’ve got more of the distance I really needed, along with the knowledge I gained in my MFA program, to pick out the horrible writing and useless scenes I thought were so good and so important a long time ago. It might not succeed in the end — the whole story could wind up tossed aside, gathering digital dust in my hard drive — but it could.

Have you ever tried to rewrite something you tossed years ago? Was it worth it?


*Three tries and then I went to spell check. Why can’t I spell this word??



6 thoughts on “Writing Problems: Rebooting a Story

  1. I have a project I did years ago and would like to revisit at some point. I hadn’t thought of using scrivener or something that would allow me to see both at one time in that way. Thanks for the post!

    • Hi Sabrina!

      Being able to look at both the new and old simultaneously took a lot of the scary out of doing this. As it’s own separate thing, the old version just kept looking too big to tackle, but this way I can look at it piece by piece.

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