Trashing Your Novel Might be the Only Way to Save It

PhoenixHappy New Year!

As we discuss new beginnings this month, I’m talking about those times when you must begin at the beginning – again – when to decide to throw away your novel and start over.

It’s a scary idea to consider for any writer, no matter how experienced. We slave over our work, sometimes for years, pouring our heart and soul into our new creation. It’s like our baby, a precious part of our identity.

So when do we kill it?

The answer to that question is kind of a sliding scale. As new authors, it can be a shock to realize that revisions are necessary, that we have to cut and chop and operate and rebuild our story, perhaps several times. At a minimum, some of those precious little nuggets we’ve worked into our story might have to get chopped as we refine and perfect the story. Other times, we have to cut and change more, making some fundamental shifts in our plot, characters, setting, etc.

And occasionally, we have to throw it all away and start over. In these cases, it’s usually because the story we thought we were telling was the wrong story. Or our skills as developing writers just wasn’t up to par with the story we were trying to tell, and there are such critical flaws in the story that it’s simply not going to work.

In those cases, to save the story, we must kill it. Like a phoenix, the story might only live to be amazing only through the ashes of its previous life.

I know what I’m talking about. I’m arguably the king of the phoenix. My first novel – the four-year, three-hundred-thousand-word monstrosity that I was convinced was going to take the world by storm – wasn’t. I cut my teeth as a writer on that story, and I still love it. A big, fat, epic fantasy that had some amazing elements, but was not a professional-level product. It simply was not going to work.

The day I realized that was a dark day. I faced a choice, as we always do when facing revisions of every kind. Either cling to my pride and embrace that parental impulse to protect this precious story I had worked so very hard for so very long to produce. It’s understandable, but that approach would have guaranteed the story never succeeded.

Or – kill the story and start over. That’s what I did. I threw it away (really should have held a solemn ceremony with a huge bonfire in the back yard). Then I started over. Page One.

I took the elements that had been good – some of the worldbuilding, some of the characters, etc. And I redesigned an entirely new story. It was a painful process, but it was also amazing and awesome because the resulting story was ten times better. I will likely release it this year.

You’d think after all of that, I’d know how to write a first draft that was mostly good and only needed minor revisions.

Nope. Not me.

Set in StoneMy second book – Set in Stone – book one of my popular YA fantasy series – suffered its own issues. I actually outlined this story to the Nth degree in the hopes of a near-perfect first draft. Problem was, I was outlining the wrong story. By the third draft, I realized there were fundamental flaws with it.

So I chopped about 80% of that novel and rewrote it again. The result was amazing. I added the humor, which is such a big part of the series. And I plunged deep into the unique magic system and added several new characters, which are some of the most popular characters in the series. If I had clung to the original draft, the story would have tanked and I would have wasted an entire world and years of effort.

So shredding that story and rebuilding it again was the only way to save it. Phoenix number Two a success.

Just about every other novel I’ve written has also required massive rewrites. Maybe you’re smarter than me or better skilled and your stories don’t require such overhauls. But don’t hold back. The story is what matters, and first drafts are sometimes a process of discovering what your story’s heart really is. Rewrites are when you get to polish the story and craft it to perfection to make that heart really shine.

This week, I’m enjoying a rare writing retreat where I’ll be diving into edits on my next Facetakers time travel thriller. I’m not expecting to need such in-depth rewrites, but as I get into the revision process, I’ll do what it takes to make the story shine.

The story deserves it. My fans deserve it. So I do the work.

I’m a storyteller. It’s what I do.

About the Author: Frank Morin

Author Frank Morin
No Stone UnturnedFrank Morin loves good stories in every form. When not writing or trying to keep up with his active family, he’s often found hiking, camping, Scuba diving, or enjoying other outdoor activities. For updates on upcoming releases of his popular Petralist YA fantasy novels, or his fast-paced Facetakers sci-fi time travel thrillers, check his website: www.frankmorin.org

An Appetite for Rejection

A guest post from Jeff Sullins, award-winning short story author.

Emerging from the holidays and vacation time at year’s end, it’s a daunting task to crawl back in front of a keyboard and get back to writing. I first must wade through a hundred distractions, some new, many returning from being temporarily laid aside. Finally, after cleaning the office, catching up on the day job, caring for sick children, and so on, it’s time to write. Maybe.

For me, writing is all about motivation. Everyone has ideas, or at least, the seeds of ideas. Turning those seeds into something interesting, that’s what it’s all about. But it takes work, and work takes motivation. And that’s the tricky bit.

Some would say it’s more about finding time. I will concede that time, or the lack of it, may be a factor. But it’s my assertion that the time exists if we want it to. It’s motivation–the magic that turns desire into work–that is the necessary catalyst for writing to happen. Time will fall into place if the motivation is there. At the risk of making enemies, let me throw this down: “lack of time” is an excuse. One excuse among many. Perhaps, one that may harbor a grain of truth every now and then, but still an excuse. In my, ah, less-than-humble opinion, I suppose.

This brings to mind a quote I like to refer to when I find myself lacking the motivation to get back to the stories I need to finish. While I haven’t been speaking about writer’s block specifically, I choose to interpret writer’s block as a simple lack of motivation to push the creative process forward:

“Writer’s block does not exist. It’s just a form of laziness. Or distraction. Or, perhaps in the case of some true genius, a form of madness.” –James V. Smith Jr.

I can safely exclude myself from the category of true genius, and am known to be an exceptionally lazy person. I need a new kick in the pants to find some motivation. Already nearly a week into the new year, and three short stories languish “almost finished” on my computer, having petered out in the face of holiday cheer.

After pondering how to give myself that kick, I have decided that in 2017 I will make use of a limitless, free resource to find motivation! This resource requires a minimal effort to obtain (I always like that), and comes straight from great minds steeped in writing knowledge.

Is it a book? No. A seminar? No. I am referring to rejection letters, of course!

I’ve become a fair collector of rejection letters, as I’ll assume everyone has. But what about these letters, perhaps more accurately termed simply rejection notes, could be considered motivating? Well, sometimes there is useful feedback in the note. That’s a high-value rejection, a treasure worth seeking.

Then there’s the even rarer, but highly rewarding, “we almost published your story” rejection. Here is one I received just before the holidays for one of my own stories:

“Dear Jeff,
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to read your story, <redacted>.
Although the decision was close, we have decided not to accept it. However, please know that your story made it to our final stage of consideration, something less than 10% of all submissions achieve.”

Now that is motivating! If I had only been a little more careful, or had taken a little more of my beta reader’s critiques to heart, I would have cleared the final hurdle. Coming close can be even more motivating than scoring a win, if you ask me. Well, up to a point.

More often than not, though, a rejection is merely a polite “no thanks.” But that, too, can be motivating in the right hands. How? Well, not without a willingness to accept some contrived goals, I admit.

For me, it will go something like this: every time I receive a rejection, I will either create a new draft of an existing story, or write 3,000 words in a new story. I’m still working on the details, so perhaps some adjustment will be in order. But the idea is there.

I think it might also be fun to collect a journal of rejections, too. Sort of a “greatest hits” album with no hits. But, one thing at a time. For now, I’ve got to send off some drafts and earn some rejections! And who knows, maybe 2017 will be the year I break a personal record for the number of rejections I can generate. If I do, it will mean I’ve been busy writing, and I’ll count that as a success.

Jeff Sullins works in the software industry by day and attempts to keep up with two young children the rest of the time. A former musician, game designer, and programmer, he’s begun to explore the strange new world of fiction writing.

Reframing Failure

A few years back, I had a conversation about horses that changed how I viewed my writing career. A dear friend of mine was telling me a story about when she was teaching her son how to ride a horse. She had grown up on a West Texas ranch and wanted to pass that legacy on to the next generation. One day he was thrown by the animal and landed hard. My friend went to her son to ensure that he hadn’t been seriously hurt. Once she had confirmed that he would be okay, she stood over him in the dust and heat of the Texan summer. Her boy was on the verge of tears, but she didn’t try to sooth him. Instead, she told him that he needed to choose if he really wanted to know how to ride. If he didn’t, he could sit and cry, and that would be fine. But “cowboys don’t cry,” and if he really wanted that life he would need to show her how tough he really was. He’d need to stand up and go show that animal that he wasn’t afraid of it. He needed to take back his power, right now or not at all.

There’s a reason that the phrase “get back in the saddle” is a cliché for starting again after a failure. If you’ve never ridden a horse, you can’t know what it feels like to have a thousand pounds of animal underneath you. To feel the shifting of muscle and sway of the saddle as your mount walks. Or know the sensation of speed and power as the horse runs. As a rider, you are only in control as much as the mount’s training or your own skill allows you to be. All the while, you are aware that falling or being thrown can be a bone breaking, paralyzing, or mortal experience. For new riders, it’s frightening. And for good reason.

Most humans are programmed to avoid painful situations. Sometimes it’s something we’ve already experienced, and others it is simply the anticipation of harm that warns us away. While this instinct helps us survive, it doesn’t allow us to grow. We only develop as individuals if we are challenged, pushed to leave our comfort zones, and are forced to adapt. In doing so, however, we risk mental, emotional, or physical hardship. And no one gets through life unscathed.

Little did my friend know that when she told me that story, I was struggling with my own fall, just of a less literal nature. I had recently been rejected by an agent that I had queried a few weeks before. It wasn’t even a personalized rejection, but rather a form letter that was addressed to “Dear Author”. I was embarrassed, angry with myself, and ashamed of my failure. I was still lying in the dirt, hurt and wallowing. However, I needed to make a decision.

I wasn’t considering quitting writing. Storytelling was and still is my passion. I had been warned that rejection letters were inevitable and that I would need to develop a thick skin to being told “thank you, but no.” However, rejection letters have a powerful effect on us writers because they feed the part of our brain teeming with doubt. I was trying to decide what that particular rejection meant for me and my story. Did I still believe in these characters? Did I still believe that the work represented the best of my skills? Was the problem something in my query letter or my manuscript? I didn’t know and so was paralyzed by indecision.

My friend’s story reminded me that I was letting the letter have power over my actions and needed to show it, and myself, that I wasn’t afraid of it anymore.

And so, I decided to reframe my problem. Quite literally. I went to the store and spent about five dollars on a plain, black, plastic picture frame. I printed out the first page of the rejection and hung it on the wall in my office. I stepped back, looked at my framed failure, and told myself aloud that this was a step in the process. I would fail again. I would succeed. I’d hang each on my wall because I owned them, they did not own me.

In the years since, I’ve added many more black frames to my wall. However, I’ve also added a few silver frames, my wins. There aren’t many silvers in comparison to the blacks, but they would not exist at all had I not decided to move past my fear and self-pity to keep pushing myself to grow. Each time I look at that wall, I am reminded of what those failures taught me, and that I have persevered. Despite the failures, I am still writing, still submitting, and still growing. With enough hard work and determination, I will have my writing career. I just need to keep dusting myself off after each and every failure and choosing what I really want.

From Self Published to Publisher

Guest Post by Aubrie L. Nixon

Most of you know that I self-published my first book in November of 2016. It is the first in a trilogy titled The Darkness Series. I had a plan to release the trilogy and a few novellas to accompany it. I was living my dream, I had written a book (Darkness Whispers) , AND published it. My sales were steady, I had a growing fanbase, life was good. Then, out of nowhere, I was getting offers from agents and a few small publishes houses. I had no idea what to do. I was enjoying being my own boss, setting my own schedule etc.. I turned down the offers just because none if them felt like the right fit. Does that make me sound snobbish? I really hope not… I am just as shocked as you are that in the process of all of this I have now turned down 5 agents and 1 publishing house. Like, who does that? Apparently anxiety Aubrie does…
Anyway, back to my topic this month: Starting Over. This topic is perfect for me this month because I get to start over! I recently signed with Winterwolf Press, and I am happy to say we fit well together! They are kind, and creative and have my best interest at heart. When I first got in touch with them, I knew that they were the ones, that I needed to be apart of their pack! And so I am! I have become faced with a rare opportunity. I get to rewrite the parts of my book, Darkness Whispers, that I wasn’t so keen about. I’ve heard every author has regrets about their book that they wish they could change. And I get the awesome opportunity to change the things that I wished had been done differently. Essentially, I get to start over. Isn’t that exciting?
I am so thrilled to be venturing back into the world of Darkness Whispers (soon to be retitled), and get to work with this story again. I have been loving writing the sequels to this book, but I can’t explain the feeling I have that I get a do-over. I LOVED writing Darkness Whispers. I love the fresh, nostalgic feeling I get when revising the scenes and characters. I am beyond ecstatic to flesh the story out a little more, and rewrite a few things. I am so blessed that I get to start over. Except his time, I have a big team behind me, rooting for me. This time, I have a fan base of people, just as excited as me to get this newish book out there!
Staring over may seem like a hard and tedious thing, but it isn’t always. I’ve learned that if life gives you a second chance, take it and run! Start over, do the things you couldn’t do the first time, and learn to love every minute of it!
Has there ever been a time you had to start over? Good or bad? Tell me in the comments below!

aubreyAubrie is 24 years young. She plays mom to a cutest demon topside, and is married to the hottest man in the Air Force. When she isn’t writing she is daydreaming about hot brooding anti-heroes and sassy heroines. She loves Dragon Age, rewatching Game of Thrones and reading all things fantasy. She runs a local YA/NA bookclub with 3 chapters, and over 200 members. Her favorite thing to do is eat, and her thighs thank her graciously for it. If she could have dinner with anyone living or dead it would be Alan Rickman because his voice is the sexiest sound on earth. He could read the dictionary and she would be enthralled. Her current mission in life is to collect creepy taxidermy animals because she finds them cute and hilarious. She resides just outside of Washington DC.