Recently I've decided to scrap the first MS I ever wrote and start over from scratch. This is because the time difference between my first MS and my WIP is about 3 years. I am older, wiser, and I think (hope) I've become a better writer. When I went back over my first MS I noticed some desperately amateur mistakes in the writing. It made me want to go back and write the whole thing again, this time paying attention to key stylistic devices and developing my plot beyond the simple "Who-dunnit" one I have now.

 

It has been brought to my attention that this behaviour is a) neurotic and b) pointless because I'm such a perfectionist that I'm still going to think the end result is shite no matter how well-written it is.

 

So quick question ladies and gents - am I being neurotic? Would you re-write a 70,000 word MS (from scratch) because you believe it's not your best work? If you wouldn't, then how many edits does your work go through before you deem it 'ready'?

 

Jess

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Would I re-edit a 70,000 word manuscript? Maybe, if I believed in that story and had no project I'd rather undertake at the time.

As for how many drafts, I usually go through five to seven. Some are more detailed than others, but I tend to make them all for specific things. One for dialog, one for descriptions, one for continuity, etc. The number of drafts and the length of time I take on each one has decreased somewhat as I become a better craftsman.

When is it ready? Usually two things happen: I realize I'm just re-arranging the funriture, and I'm sick to death of looking at it.
You're right, Dana - I am just rearranging the furniture. Mostly because the way I had it before was so stupid, and maybe if I push things around a little, the room will look bigger or classier or something. I do love the story though. The reason I'm going back is that I loved the characters so much that I wanted to make it a series. And every series need a kick-ass opener. This first MS barely throws a punch.
You can always borrow the bits and pieces of the old manuscript that you really like and write them into a new project. But as someone who wrote and re-wrote and re-wrote again that first manuscript, I'd say that it's really time to drop it and move on. You'll only end up hating the project and wondering why you're doing this to yourself.
I end up hating the project anyway no matter how much time I spend on it! But you're right, there comes a time when you have to call it quits.
I think there must be a point where you have to say enough is enough. You can't let perfectionism (while I'm all for it) keep you from ever finishing something. You will always be your own worst critic.

Just never (I mean never. Did I say never? I mean NEVER.) delete your old scrapped version. I guarantee you you will want it for something later; maybe a passage you liked but can't quite remember, some little detail you forgot you wanted to include or expand on in the new version- even just to compare the new to the old to remind yourself it's coming along nicely- you will want the old one someday.
Too true, Annie - half of my original MS has survived in one form or another in this new draft. I've kept most of the basic plot and characters the same. Interestingly, I ended up re-using a scene which didn't work from one of my other works because it fit so well into this one. I try not the throw anything away.
So being neurotic is a good thing? Sweet!
You are not neurotic for wanting to start fresh. Rewriting is what writing is all about, IMHO. The only question should be, Do you still love the story?

It's true you may never be 100% happy, and can always find words to change. But don't let that stop you from starting over and improving you manuscript. For lots of us, the first draft is always a piece of crap -- just a starting point for getting the story right eventually.
T. Jefferson Parker rewrote his first published novel, Laguna Heat, 5 times from scratch over five years. (I love that novel by the way.)
You learn from rewrites, so do it.

As for being embarrassed again several years down the road: that's normal.
I have done exactly what you describe. It hasn't yet led to selling the book, but I don't regret the effort, because as Jack says, I believe in the story.
That's an interesting analogy Dan

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