Dealing with Doubt: Rewriting a Manuscript

thumb_IMG_0373_1024Not going to lie, I’m dealing with some pretty heavy self-doubt this week. I just finished reading through the latest draft of my WIP, and I’m finally ready to admit it needs heavy world building and character development work.

These are areas that I can realize I’ve been lazy in, and I’m finally at a place where I’m telling myself that rushing this project for the sole reason that I feel “time is running out” is not going to allow me to put forth my best possible work.

Rushing it and having a project that even I know still needs work will do nothing but burn bridges and waste time. Which brings me to the harder part: do I shelve the manuscript in order to write new projects and develop my skills as a writer, or do I start from essentially scratch with the same idea?

Honestly, the WIP I’ve been working on since Spring 2016 is pretty high fantasy, and I mostly read contemporary fantasy. As I sit here staring at my shelves and thinking of books I’ve enjoyed and been drawn to over the years, I’m forced to admit I don’t read very much fantasy set in a world other than our own. No wonder my world building is underdeveloped. I need to fully brainstorm and flesh out my world, and something that intense, that involved, that will have to be interwoven in every other piece of the story from the characters to the plot, can’t be done with a simple revision.

As much as I love so many parts of my manuscript and the work I’ve put in for two years now, I know I’d be once again cheating myself to just call that a revision. And if I’m going to rewrite anyway, shouldn’t I take the time to really learn the genre as I brainstorm? I think I should, that I’ll be left with another underdeveloped draft if I don’t.

These kinds of realizations scare me, make me want to save myself the learning experience and just begin working on a new idea. But those other ideas aren’t developed either. Most of them don’t have characters or any real semblance of plot, they’re still just premises, basic settings, things that I’m not attached to yet in the way I am the characters of my current WIP.

And that’s what I have to remind myself. The plot of my WIP has already changed a dozen times in the last two years, so have the settings and so many other little details. But those two years weren’t wasted. I know my characters in a way, even if I haven’t done them justice by developing their relationships and arcs. It’s the characters that make the story, and their fundamental motivations and characteristics aren’t changing, so I’ll love this new version of their story as much as the dozen that came before.

I’m going to force myself to not take the lazy way out, to not sit here and say “well it’s good enough”. Because if I can read my own work and see so many things I want to change, that can be developed better and leave a deeper impact, than I owe it to myself to put the work in.

So for my final thoughts on this, I’ll just say that regardless of whether or not you decide to shelve or rewrite a manuscript, think of it as a learning experience. As writers, every draft we write or revise teaches us something. Don’t be stuck on keeping something the way it is, and don’t avoid putting in the legwork. I’ve been avoiding world-building and character legwork for two years now. I’ve finally reached a point where I’m 100% excited about the plot, but even as the writer I don’t feel a resonance with it, and I know that’s because the world and characters aren’t interwoven deeply enough.


Writing is Rewriting.

It’s time to make a new plan of attack, one focused on world building and character arcs. I’ve been researching different ways of doing this, and will be trying to outline and make a revision plan with these things in mind. I’m hoping to have a coherent idea of everything this latest revision needs in the coming week or two, which brings me to April.

April is CampNanoWrimo (my profile here), and as I was already planning to do a revision of my WIP during that, nothing has really changed. The scope has, but at the end of the month I hope I’ll be at least halfway to a new and improved version of my story.

P.S: A lot of the self-doubt has gone away by writing this. I highly suggest venting/working through issues like this, by laying out WHY you feel your story isn’t working, and making a game plan, it’ll hopefully no longer feel like a failure, but rather just another step toward becoming a better storyteller.


Revising Using the Three-Act Structure

unnamed-2            This past week I’ve gone back into the 4th draft of my manuscript and, using the notecard outline from that draft, plotted it onto the three-act structure.

I did this because I knew the plot was lacking, and going back to the basics of planning a novel was the only way I could see to figure out what still needed fixing. What I learned? My story was stopping before certain major plot points happened. Namely, I was essentially finishing the story at what would only be the end of Act Two.

Last week I mentioned how short I thought the word count for draft four was, and considering it was missing an entire act that makes much more sense now. It also explains why after draft three I realized I’d never written a climax scene into my novel and had to go back and build up to that in draft 4.

I’ve been writing the new scenes I mapped out suing the three-act structure, and I have a few tips that go along with this.

1)    It’s never too late to replot.

Whether you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser during the planning stage, no novel will be at its best until revisions include outlining. More than that, you’ll outline before, during, and after every single round you do. That’s just the way it is. Sound stressful? It can be, unless you consider that replotting gives you permission to never really stick to that plot. In the six scenes I’ve been writing this week, I’ve already deviated during the drafting.

The 2,000 words I wrote today I know involve a voice unlike what I’ve already used for that POV character in the chapters that I’ve already revised. Oh, well. I kind of like this new voice, at least elements of it. And I Know more revisions have to take place in the rest of the novel, as I’m far from done. So, better to realize where the plot holes are and replot than let it turn to trash.

2)    Don’t worry about the length of each act.

If you were using the three-act structure before the first draft, then I’d say make a word-count goal for each scene or chapter. But in the case of a manuscript already mostly drafted, just let it happen. In my first two acts, I have multiple chapters/scenes that belong to the same plot point. I also have scenes that I wrote because I like them in the story. These scenes build character, world build, or move along the plot in some way not directly explained by the plot points in the three-act structure.

On the opposite hand, the scenes I’ve plotted now that I realized they were missing? One scene per plot point, and often less than 2,000 words (I’m aiming for between 2000-3000 words per chapter). I think for the second half of the second and the third act this is okay because the action should be speeding up anyway.

3)    Understand that you will have to make major changes

If you feel the need to plot your already revised manuscript (or not revised if this is between the first and second drafts) then odds are you’re already aware it’s missing something. This means when you’re done plotting it out, you’re going to have to write scenes from scratch all over again, which for me is proving the hardest part.

After almost a year on this project, (and a failed Nano project in November) it’s been a while since I’ve gotten into writing from scratch. I’ve been revising several drafts and can get pretty creative doing that. But staring at a blank page? It’s like I’ve forgotten how to write altogether. I’ve been combatting this with writing sprints on MyWriteClub.

If you, like me, wish you could just be done with revisions and letting someone else read it, take a deep breath and remember why it matters to you that this story be amazing. It’s tempting to send your MS off to a critique partner, beta reader or even start querying, in the hope your revisions will become easier and clearer with someone else’s feedback.

But like I said, if you’re reading this post or you’ve already been thinking about replotting your project in any capacity, then you know something’s missing. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sending something off that you already know isn’t complete. Sit down, breath, and make the changes. It’ll be worth it when the next time you look at it you can see how much better that draft is.

            This is technically the fourth tip, but important enough that I want to wrap up with it rather than include it in that chunky text above.

Don’t get discouraged. I’m facing this issue myself, where all the revisions and feeling of incompleteness that surrounds my MS makes me just want to move on to the next project. It’s extra tempting because starting March 1st I’ll be beginning to research and outline a different book for camp nanowrimo in April. But even if this MS never sees the light of day, going through every step of revisions until I’m absolutely positive it’s the best it will ever be, is a learning experience I can’t pass up.

When you’re looking at your MS and only seeing it’s problems, consider the passion and idea that originally sparked you to write that first draft. Don’t give up on the experience that seeing this project through will give you, even if when you finally reach that summit you just put the project in a drawer and move on.

Revising by Hand

unnamedFor the last several weeks I’ve been revising the fourth draft of my manuscript by hand. It’s a method I’m familiar with in theory, but one I’ve never done this extensively.

After obsessively reading through author blogs and advice I realized I needed to try something new. I’d already done roughly two and a half rounds of revision and still felt I wasn’t diving deep enough.

So, I read through Susan Dennard’s revision process and decided to print out the entire manuscript for the second time (the first being the rough draft). A few things came from this, 1) I was reminded how immensely proud I am of myself for writing that many words, even if they’re bad ones. And 2) my usual routine of becoming distracted by the internet was taken out of play.

I worked by hand with my laptop far away and my phone on do not disturb. Then in the last week I typed in all those changes. My third draft word count was close to 75,000 and by the end of deleting, adding and more deleting, the finished fourth draft came out to barely 66,000. That’s a lot shorter than what I want it to be, but those are 66k words that (hopefully) all add something to the story.

It was easier to cut the fluff and realize what wasn’t working when I couldn’t see the word count shrinking. Doing it by hand made it a million times easier to cut through those words without trying to maintain a specific word count. With this in mind, I hid the word count feature as I typed in the changes.

Now I’ve got the first 12 chapters in someone else’s hands for the first time. I only handed off the first 12 instead of all 38 because of another Susan Dennard tip. Why give someone more of the same problems? When I have feedback from the first 12, I’ll use it to adjust the next 13, and so on, before getting feedback on it. This’ll make sure each part is tighter than the last, ideally forcing the person reading it to go deeper.

I’ll be spending the time now that it’s out of my hands focused on doing some general brainstorming and outlining for what I want to happen in the rest of the series. I won’t be writing any sequels for a long time, (more writerly advice, this time an overlap from both Susan Dennard and Ava Jae). But when I make the next round of revisions, I want to be working not just with feedback from my reader but also a better understanding of the story’s long term goals.

Overall, I’m glad I revised by hand, and I feel so much more connected to my story, especially since over the last few drafts it’s drastically changed from what I initially planned and wrote almost a year ago. I suggest, whether it’s the first or thousandth round of revisions, that you try hand revising at least once for your manuscript. You’d be surprised the things you notice.

For comparison, here’s the visual of tracked changes after I typed in all the revisions I’d marked by hand. It’s a lot of red, and to be honest, it’s pretty fun to see.