Rewriting: Breaking Free of My Self-Constructed Box

Back in the late spring/early summer I decided to massively rewrite my urban fantasy manuscript. While I love my characters and their underlying story, I wasn’t satisfied with the plot or my writing. I’ve learned a lot (A LOT) about writing since I first wrote the manuscript and I want to do my characters justice by telling their story with the quality they deserve. Although I put the rewrite on hold for a few months while I wrote the first draft of my second cozy mystery, I’m now back to focusing on the rewrite.

I’m super excited to tackle this project but as I attempted to work on it yesterday for the first time in months, I very quickly remembered how I had agonized over it back in the spring/summer because I was immediately back to feeling the same way.

This isn’t a major round of editing. This is a massive rewrite. The characters are the same and the beginning of the story has some similarities to the old version, but I estimate that at least 70% of the pot will be completely different and even scenes that are similar to the old version are getting rewritten.

So, yeah. MAJOR PROJECT.

But it’s not the scale of the project that I’m finding so difficult. Not really. I think what’s giving me the most trouble is myself-constructed box.

The characters and the old version of their story have been in my head for years and years. Trying to break through all those old ideas of what happens so I can see the new story has been difficult. Nevertheless, I’ve managed to break some of my ties to the old plot and have come up with several new, stronger ideas.

Still, scene by scene, the old version tries to limit me. Even when I’ve accepted the fact that a certain scene is going to play out differently in the new version, I still find myself unsatisfied at times with the way I’m writing it. I’ve come to realize that part of the reason for that is that I’m still allowing the words (not just the plot) of the old version to stifle me.

For example, although the scene I tackled yesterday takes place in a new location with an additional character present, I found myself cutting and pasting lines from the previous version and attempting to simply modify them to fit the new circumstances. Sure, that allows me to add words faster but it left me feeling completely unsatisfied with my progress. My old words are old. Since I first wrote them, my writing has evolved, improved. I need to remember that simply because a scene has similarities to the past version, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t rewrite Every. Single. Line.

Yes, rewriting every line means a lot more work for me. But in the end, it’ll be worth it. I know that.

So I’m trying my best to recognize that even scenes that I’m keeping from the old version don’t have to play out the exact same way as they did before. Even if they do play out the same way, they don’t have to do so with the same words, the same descriptions, the exact same lines of dialogue.

It’s incredibly difficult sometimes to see beyond the box of words and plot that I constructed for myself in the past, but I’m trying. At this point, I think I’ve broken down the walls of my box but I’m still standing amidst the ruins. Step-by-step, however, I plan to get free of those ruins and allow this story to become the story it needs and wants to be.

Have you ever felt limited by your own self-constructed box and had difficulty thinking beyond it?

What have your rewriting experiences been like?

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13 Comments

  1. November 12, 2013 at 9:21 pm

    Yes, yes, yes, this is exactly what I’ve been going through. I’m “rewriting” the WIP I worked on back in August but in reality, I’ve only been modifying things. I’ve worked on my query more than fifty times but nothing drastic, only modifications.
    Tonight however, after receiving a great query critique from a an author, I started asking myself questions. My problem is not with the query. It’s with the book. It’s with my self-constructed box. I had preconceived notions of how everything should start, and even though I reworked my middle and ending, much of the beginning was still the same.
    And that’s what I’m digging through tonight, changing my whole plot. Murdering my darling ideas.
    So yes, it feels like this blog post was meant for me.

    • November 12, 2013 at 9:26 pm

      Not the whole plot per se, but the whole plot of the first few chapters

      • Sarah L Fox said,

        November 13, 2013 at 9:48 am

        I’m glad this post resonated with you, Ifeoma. It really is hard to see beyond our preconceived notions but when we finally do it’s rather freeing and allows us to build stronger stories. Good luck with your rewrites! 🙂

  2. Nicole L. Bates said,

    November 14, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I started off doing what you described with my last rewrite, trying to cut and paste old parts with new, and I found it didn’t work at all. I had to scrap almost the entire story, and even a bit of the plot, and completely rewrite. It felt like more work initially, but I think it actually went faster, and turned out much better than it would have otherwise. Good luck to you, Sarah!

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      November 14, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      Thanks, Nicole! My first “rewrite” of Bloodstone was really just tweaking. This time it’s so much harder but I know it will turn out far better, as you found with your ms. Now it’s not even called Bloodstone anymore because I’ve changed the story so much that the title no longer fits.

  3. November 19, 2013 at 7:55 am

    My goodness, have I EVER had this experience. In fact the book I rewrote entirely about 5 times just got published. Keep at it. It’s totally worth it!

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      November 19, 2013 at 5:42 pm

      Congratulations! That’s so great to hear! Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂

  4. November 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    First, I totally need to check my alerts more often – I am always late to your great posts!

    Second, do I EVER hear ya. I should show this blog to anyone who asks why my book is taking so long to write. It’s because taking it from a fanfic to an original piece took long enough, then I too had the problem of too much cutting/pasting from the first draft. I mean, I only had to substitute a few things to make it my own, right? Wrong. Ugh. So many words, so few of them terrific.

    So I too had to break out of the box and start mostly fresh (after also learning a LOT since I began). I changed the things that needed it (plot points, characters, etc.) and am rewriting nearly the whole thing from scratch. And you know what? It’s better this time – I think I can actually make it to the end now!

    And then the first round of true ‘tweaking’ rewrites will begin… o.o lol

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      November 24, 2013 at 4:27 pm

      Sounds like we’re going through the exact same thing, Abby! I’m excited about making mine so much better but it’s also overwhelming at times. It’ll be worth it in the end though when I have a far stronger story to show for it.

  5. Yael Itamar said,

    December 1, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    “My old words are old. Since I first wrote them, my writing has evolved, improved. I need to remember that simply because a scene has similarities to the past version, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t rewrite Every. Single. Line.”

    OMG, so true. There is a huge difference in stylistic quality between those scenes I rewrote and those that I initially deemed “solid enough.” It’s like they were written by another person.

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      December 2, 2013 at 9:29 am

      Yes, I’ve learned so much about writing over the past couple of years. Really does make a huge difference!

  6. L. Palmer said,

    January 30, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    I did this with at least several books. I ended up pulling one manuscript apart entirely, figuring out what was essential, and then opening up a blank document and started re-writing. Draft 1 was 200,000 words or so. Draft 2 was 90,000 words. It was a lot of work, but I think the story and the world is a lot better.

    • Sarah L Fox said,

      January 31, 2014 at 2:36 pm

      Mine has been a lot of work too but I’m finally reaching the end of the new version and it feels much stronger to me. Once I stopped looking at the old version the new story came to me far more easily. Now I’m looking forward to editing the new version! Thanks for reading and commenting!


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