Tantrums & Rewrites: The First Few Weeks With my First Draft

Unsolicited Opinions / Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my strategies for going through the first draft of my books. I was really flying high. I had all these lofty ideas that I would dive right in and start perfecting my themes, characterization, motivation, and world-building.

I was so young, then. So naive.

Because this is not the part where I perfect the book. This is the part where I write the damn thing.

Want the truth? After my initial read-through (which I eventually hurried up for the sake of not stressing the details so much that I never finished it)  I realized that what I had written thus far was utter trash. Garbage. Drivel. Don’t get me wrong, I still love every single word of it and couldn’t be paid to stop working on it, but it’s just interesting to see that something I put all that time and effort into is in need of serious, serious work.

I think you might misunderstand me. I don’t mean like, oh, I’ll change a phrase here and there. I mean, like, there are three 15-page chapters in a row full of boring internal monologue that only I care about, that wouldn’t interest anyone, that have to somehow be turned into full chapters with interesting progressions that contribute to the story. There are subplots that go nowhere, characters who appear then disappear randomly, backstory and exposition dumped ungracefully in the middle of dialogue. Oh, and the dialogue. The dialogue is so bad.

(Aside: I wonder if this happens to artists in other fields? Do painters ever chop their paintings in half and throw the unwanted parts away? It seems insane.)

If you had told me this around a year ago, I might have been paralyzed in fear and shock, thinking that all those words I thought were so unique and brilliant coming from my fingertips …. Would have to ultimately be deleted. Had I known a year ago that it would be so hard, I might never have started. As it is, I’m vacillating between zen-like calmness and complete tantrum-mode. It’s a strange place to be.

It’s daunting.

But it’s not all bad.

Here’s the good news: it’s only daunting in theory. As in, the conscious reflection that I am going to have to go back and change and rewrite so much? That’s what terrifies me. That’s what brings on the emotional (and occasionally physical) temper tantrums. But once I’m doing it, once I’m editing, rewriting, and reflecting, it feels…okay (as long as I don’t think about it too hard).

It’s actually an amazing feeling because I know the characters so much better than I did at the beginning of the story. So many times, while reading through, I’ve encountered a scene or line of dialogue from a character that now, in retrospect, doesn’t fit their characterization at all. It’s not distressing, though. It’s exciting! Exhilarating that I know my characters so well that I can hone their speech patterns into a science. I know their minds.

And I know my world now, too. It’s silly and full of magic and whimsy, but I’ve realized upon my second reading that it has a darker undercurrent than I had initially realized. Even well-beloved characters have twisted components to their pasts that mean many of their scenes have to be entirely rewritten.

I guess what I really wanted to emphasize with this rambling and incoherent post that I’m penning on my lunch break (eventually I’m going to have to use this time to actually eat food) is that I initially approached the second draft process as an edit, but it is not just an edit. It’s a total rewrite. Did you know it could be that way?? These are my first novels, so I had absolutely no clue.

So that’s my next few months: I have to chuck half my book out and start over, in some cases, from scratch. Luckily, I’m comfortable claiming I’m a better writer now than I was, say, a year ago when I first started the books. All that practice readied me for the situation I’m currently facing.

My first few weeks of editing have felt tumultuous. Writing M&J has been my anchor for more than a year now, and the first week of just reading what I’d written was so strange to me: I’ve felt every day that I should be writing more in the series. An extension. And maybe I will. (I’ll have a whole freaking novel of deleted scenes once I’m done, anyway).

So I’ve felt a little bit of grief, some shock at how bad a writer I am, a warm gush of love and appreciation for M&J, and (thankfully) above all, excitement to continue.

As I inch forward, pruning so that I can add, shearing so that I can polish, I’ll continue updating you guys on what I find in the process.

If you have any tips, advice, or comments about your initial attempts looking over your first draft, please let me know in the comments below!


6 Replies to “Tantrums & Rewrites: The First Few Weeks With my First Draft”

  1. I do relate to this- I’ve had first drafts that needed to be completely overhauled. For WIPs like that, I like to go through it all and write down everything structural or major that needs to be changed before getting into the finicky aspects like individual word choices. I’ve had to do this twice and basically did a re-plan for both (writing out all the events and chapters, even if I didn’t need to reconfigure everything, it’s just good to have it all clear, especially to pick out plotholes or parts that are unnecessary). Personally I found that helps a lot to iron everything out. And when it comes to changing details, I always like to use track changes on word, cos it means I’ll have to look at the sentence a few times if that makes sense (ie when you have to go back and approve it) Anyway, hope all of that helps!

    1. Yes – that makes so much sense! It’s so much more helpful to do the big things first. Like you said, pick out all the plotholes, etc. Because if I started with making the language pretty and writing “perfect” sentences, then I’d inevitably have to ditch or change them later on in the edit (love the track changes advice for the details). It’s just a way more daunting process than I realized. I was so psyched to have that sense of completion when I “finished” writing and then…realized I wasn’t finished. At all. Big wake up call.

  2. Rewriting is really the best way to improve your book! I’ve written on it several times and even currently I am re-writing my fantasy book from high school because it needs an entire up-haul but I know it will be better for it

    1. You’re so right! I’m glad I’m not the only one in the middle of rewriting right now. Sometimes it feels like I’m making no progress forwards, but I know it’s something I have to do. Good luck with your rewrites!

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