Monday, March 12, 2012

Perpetual rewrites

I promised a story of why I've written and rewritten the story that's become the first book in my trilogy, and so that's what you're getting today. I could've sworn I'd already written about this, but a scouring and a Google search tells me no.

I've already mentioned that I spent a lot of my childhood tapping out stories. Most of those are what I now know are "trunk novels," which are manuscripts hidden away with no intention of seeing publication. They're stilted, derivative, and precisely what you'd expect from a shy preteen who lives in her own head. If you were to read them, you'd know what books I'd been reading and what movies had just come out. They were practice, and great for letting me find my writing voice and honing what I had for craft.

I still have most of them. They sit in a box in my closet, and I eye them warily from time to time, wondering if it would be worth the embarrassment to find out if there's anything salvageable in them.

But there's still one story that sticks with me. I wrote the first draft while I was in the middle of reading the Vampire Diaries series, which should tell you both how long ago that was, and what kind of story it was. It was also the first novel I'd ever finished, and I was proud of myself.

But this was in the early day of computers, when we had to save everything on floppy disks. I popped in the disk I thought my story was on one day, prepared for edits, and it wasn't there. I scoured every floppy disk in the house, but it wasn't on any of them. To this day, I don't know what happened to it.

I was disheartened for months, and I worked on a few other stories. One day, I realized that I remembered the outline of the plot well enough to reconstruct it, and I did.

That time, the computer died. The new computer didn't use the same word processing program, so I couldn't transfer the story. But I'd already retyped it, so I decided to do just that. That time, the disk was corrupted. By then, I had a computer in my own room, and I could back up the story on several formats. And yet, all of those formats failed me. When I went away to college and the school computers ate my ever-rewritten novel, I was starting to get a sense of humor about it. When my husband burned the wrong draft onto a CD for me and I deleted all the backups, I just shrugged and rewrote it from scratch yet again.

I took a break from rewriting the story for a while after college. I didn't write anything for years. Then one night, I had a dream about one of the characters. It wasn't the first time I'd dreamed about them, but it was the most motivating.

The thing is, in all of those rewrites, I found that I'd improved. The story was more compelling and tightly plotted, the characters were better developed, and it was easier to rewrite it every time. I'd been developing my craft as I went along, and so the story improved as I got more practice.

I've heard the advice that you shouldn't keep working on the same novel, that you should move on to other stories. While I'm sure that's excellent advice, I don't regret having ignored it. I feel like I've learned a lot from having done otherwise.

If you would learn anything from this blog, I hope you take two things away from this post. First, back up your manuscripts, in many different ways. Currently, I use Dropbox, and my husband burns the most recent drafts onto CD for me. Second, if you do lose your current draft, it might not be the worst thing to happen to you.


  1. I always back up my work by sending it to myself in an email.

    1. That definitely works, too. Back in my day (*waves cane*), email couldn't handle files that big.

  2. I do what Mandy does as well, plus I have an external drive. My laptop got stolen last year, about a year ago now, and I lost stuff forever because of that. In hindsight it may have been a good thing, it forced me to alter how I write and what I was writing and the new work is better than the old work.

    1. Having a laptop stolen always sucks. I'm sorry to hear it.

      But as disheartening as it is, sometimes starting over from scratch is exactly what a story needs.