To Rewrite or to Not Rewrite: That is the Question…

I’ll be honest, I was pretty darn chuffed with myself when I self-published my book last year. I’d been working on it since I was 8 or 9 and anyone whose got to the end of a novel will understand the feeling of accomplishment that comes along side it. On top of that, it was the first time I ever exposed my writing to strangers so that was a big deal for me.

Only one problem really.

It’s sort of mediocre.

It’s strange to read back something after a year and realise it really isn’t half as good as you thought it was. I can see all the mistakes they tell new authors to do their best to avoid. The prose is lumpy in (most) places and it is full of small errors. I was in such a hurry to be published that I forgot three golden rule – patience, practise, proof. I considered taking it down altogether but to me it represents something – a solid achievement that I don’t want to belittle by removing it. But I’m also aware, it’s doing me no favours as a writer.

And so today, I pose a question. When do you abandon a literary project?

Funnily enough, despite having written since the age of eight, it’s not a question I’ve ever really had to consider before. I spent most of my early years writing screenplays that I knew beyond a doubt were never going to go beyond my hard-drive and were produced solely for personal enjoyment. I read back some of my plots now and laugh hysterically at how insane they sound. My ten-year old self thought turning James Bond into a musical sounded like a good idea. But my point is, I always knew those projects were never destined for anything noteworthy.

It was only as I got to late teens that I really considered my writing with any degree of seriousness, but even then, as any new screenwriter will tell you, unless you are exceptionally lucky or live in Hollywood, that’s pretty much a pipe dream. It’s a sad fact and I’m sure many will simply accuse me of being bitter and not-good-enough. The truth is, I’ve never really tried to take my screenplays anywhere. So whether they are good or not almost becomes moot. Instead, I chose to turn them into a form of complex plotting for their transformation into novel form.

Which brings me to my first book. Myths & Legends. I wrote the first draft of the screenplay when I was seventeen and it took me two years to convert it into the novel version that is currently available. Like I say, I was rather chuffed with myself when I finished. I thought I had written a good book…

They say time makes the heart grow fonder. Well it also makes the brain grow wiser.

Myths & Legends is not a bad book but it is fairly and squarely in the mediocre category. I’ve never had a bad review on it, but I’ve also never had a good one either. Reading it back, I can see so many errors that I made. Ways I handled the plot that were clumsy. The plot itself is hopeless in places. And the narrative is cringe-worthily childish and unrefined.

But there’s something about that first book you write. The characters. The story. It feels more personal than any other work you will produce and so I recently decided that I was going to give Myths & Legends the facelift it deserved and see if I could take a so-so book and turn it into something that I’d be proud to promote and share.

And this isn’t a revamp. We all revamp (or draft as I like to call it). It’s the only path to novel completion. We move chapters around, change sentences, proof out all the errors, fix continuity and yes, here and there, fiddle with the plot. But this goes so much deeper than that. This is a true rewrite.

It’s been brutal. Of the first three chapters, the sum total of what has stayed from the original is four sentences. Narrative styles have changed. Locations have changed. Dialogue has been revolutionised. But I’ve surprised myself by actually enjoying the process. It’s been nice to resurrect those old friends that I created so long ago. And I feel like this time, I have a half shot at doing them justice.

But now I face a decision I never expected to fall upon. How far can I change the book before it becomes a completely different novel with just a shared title? The Italian Job syndrome. They tried so hard to update and ‘hip’-ise the story, they moved so far from the original that about the only two things they have in common is a title and the use of Mini’s. And so I face the literary equivalent. The rewrite of this book is much stronger, and darker, than its predecessor and this opens up to me a whole new wealth of plots. The question is, do I want to change it that much?

The answer at the moment is – I think so. I know, as far as the future of the book is concerned, rewriting both book and plot is probably the best choice and is the path I am now going down but there is a small part of me sad to see the original go. It’s often quoted that J.K. Rowling rewrote chapter one alone of Harry Potter something like six or seven times before she was happy with it. It’s something I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten more and more into this industry – writing is a skill and just like any skill it gets better with practice. The more you write, the better you become. It’s only natural that in a book of 600 pages written over a year, the end is going to be neater and cleaner than the beginning. And the newer you are to the industry the more quickly, and radically, you will improve. Just a thought – but most (and this is only a general rule because I know there are hundreds of exceptions) the successful authors out there are past thirty. I sometimes wonder if long-established authors like Stephen King look back at their early work and cringe the way I am with mine, or if it’s just a self-published thing.

Keep an eye out because I’ll be posting the rewritten Chapter One in the next couple of days up to ‘The Dayeskis Trilogy’ page. It’d be nice to have some feedback on what you guys think.