How Not to Write a Book ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, June 02, 2007

How Not to Write a Book

One of my goals this summer, other than mowing about 2000 lawns, reading a short stack of books about church planting, finishing Anna Karenina, and working with Aidan on his three-point shot, is to start rewriting a novel I started about twelve years ago. No, really.

What I'm wondering is this: With so much literary water under the bridge is it really worth "rewriting" a project this old? Would a total restart be more in order? Or maybe something entirely new, a concept that rises more spontaneously from who I am and how I write now, as opposed to twelve years ago.

Answer this question to my satisfaction, and I'll give you a cut on all the royalties my completed novel will rake in.

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Paul said...

I would suggest a total restart. This would honor the growth and maturity you have experienced as a writer while remaining true to a story that has been trying to emerge for 12 years.

John B. said...

Horace, I think it was, recommended starting a draft of something and then putting it away for 7 years before looking at it again. Fresh eyes, is the idea here. You've overshot by 5 years.

The option you don't mention as being available to you is that something can grow out of the manuscript: some chance moment that suggests its own narrative. Gabriel García Márquez used to regularly reread his published work, looking for story ideas. So: don't trash it at least until you've had a nice, long, careful read of it.

Good luck with it.

Mark said...

It depends if it is better or worse than Eragorn. If it is worse, then I would start over.

Andrew Simone said...

I would echo John B.'s advice. Whatever you do, however, do not literally trash it.

Save everything.

gymbrall said...

I'd lean towards a restart while saving and referring back to the previous work for inspiration, but it depends, y'know?

There is always a chance with such a passage of time as twelve years that the young Ariel who wrote that first draft no longer exists. There is also the chance that the older and (we believe) now wiser man is in danger of clinging to the idea of something he no longer completely agrees with because to let go of it would be unbearable. (This is conjecture, based on my own struggles. I have no insight into what you might be thinking) So it's tricky.

I say read back through what you have and see if there is resonance there, and if so, is it a distant or an unbearably familiar one? Is what you had begun still the story that you now want to tell? A good novel is too hard to write to hamper yourself by building on the wrong foundation. I say, let that be the deciding factor, but whatever you choose, don't throw anything away. Sometimes I go back through old pages and find myself a stranger, but pleasantly so. I find afresh things that I've forgotten I had known.

Anyway, that's my take.

Will Robison said...

Always start with the story in your head. If the old story still matches that, then keep it. If its close, then modify it. If its so completely off base to the story in your head, trash it and start all over. But the story in your head is the one you want on paper.

UberGoober said...

How big a cut?

littlepeace said...

If you think it's worth enough to rewrite, I say "why not?". I hope in twelve years I can look back on my age-16 writings without a grimace and find something worth brushing up.

Ariel said...

I appreciate the thoughts that have showed up here. You all have pushed me to conclude a few things:

1) I won't burn the old manuscript.

2) When I pick it up, I'll edit with a free hand.

3) If that becomes more like demolishing a building than touching up a paint job, I'll start over.

Again, thank you very much for the comments. They add to my motivation...

In response to the mercenary query, how big a cut? -

I figure that at the very least I can guarantee you, say, 35% of my earnings, which should be enough to buy a large mocha. So don't hold back.

Timothy Goering said...

hey ariel! i think i'm a little for the conversation, but it takes a while to process things when i'm at the end of my semester.
i can only strongly encourage you to write a novel. i would be very interested in reading it! i would also say start out something totally new. something that is in your mind right now. i'm sure there are a few things...
so send me some stuff BEFORE you get all famous. =^) c-ya


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife