I had an enormous epiphany about my main character today, while I was running errands (I love it when stuff like that happens), and I find myself on the horns of a dilemma: do I start out fresh, with a clean slate, or try to hammer what I've already got into shape?

I'm not really asking you guys to answer the question for me, I'm just curious what other people do. My manuscript is about 80K words right now -- in other words, it's pretty fleshed out, except for a couple of spots -- so starting a clean re-write is a big decision, but with this new understanding of my protag and the thrust of her experience through the story, I'm probably going to have to 'tweak' a lot of what's already there anyway. If I do re-write, this will be the fourth time I've started from scratch; however, the other three times I had nowhere near this much time/material invested.

So -- is starting a fresh re-write at this point a completely daft idea? Or is it something people do?

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It depends on the quality of the 80k you've written.

Me, I edit. Though I'm not above re-writing large swathes of material, but to attempt to rewrite an entire project, at least for me, runs the risk of losing the creative spark that got the story going in the first place.

What works for you might be entirely different.
One learns from re-writes. I once rewrote some 200,000 words because my agent objected to present tense narration. In retrospect, I should have stuck with it.

But in this case, I'm leaning toward revision. Revision you'd be doing anyway.
Tell me more, I.J. -- what makes you think you should have stuck to your guns on that big re-write? Were you unhappy with the change once it was finished?
It took 8 months to rewrite. The plot did not change, but the characters became more distant, and the style was much less poetic. Past tense is the tense of plot narrative. Present tense is both more dramatic and more poetic. That's what I learned. Maybe it was worth 8 months. The new book has yet to sell. (And I should add that I never keep the old version. I overwrite). I believe my agent wanted a commercially viable book, and I wanted insight into a woman's character as she survives in incredibly troubled times.
A lot depends on how much the change in your character will affect the story. If it's not too much, editing should od it, If it's a lot, a re-write might be in order. I wouldn't just throw away 80,000 words, though. A lot of that should be salvageable.
Percolate. See if this grand idea still feels appealing a few days after conception. I had many terrible ideas I'm glad I didn't waste time on.

I also had good ones. For those, I would start with small re-writes. I'm not talking anything huge. Just a paragraph. That's the seed. Let it sit before you grow it again. Soon, it will sprout into a novel-sized tree.

This baby step approach works well for me. A drastic re-write may leave you regretting the decision. Small steps, though, give me better control and perspective, with plenty of room to back out at any moment. They also help me see other areas that will have to change to stay consistent with the "epiphany," ones I may have overlooked otherwise.
This is such good advice... I always forget, in the throes of whatever passion of the moment has gripped me, that I may wake up the next day (or the next hour) and go, 'what was I thinking?' In fact, more often than not.

I've decided to forge ahead with the edit, and see what happens. I'll know soon enough if it's absolutely hopeless.
I completely agree with this advice. The epiphany be just a bad idea dolled up for a party. Keep the chain on the door and hear what it has to say first, through small edits. Then, if you like what's going on, toss off the chain and invite it in.

But I'll wager that after 80K words, the epiphany will look a bit hinky standing on the porch once you give it the once-over, and that you'll end up closing the door on it. Happens all the time to me.
I edit (though I call it revising.) If I'm cutting out large chunks of text, I save them in a separate file, just in case there's something in there I like.

If I start over (which has only ever happened with short stories) I give the new file a new name and keep the old one. Just in case. For example, I have Hit Woman v4 on my computer at the moment. Lots of false starts on that one....

I've almost never gone back to what I've cut out, but one never knows.

And I hate reinventing the wheel. Chances are, how I wrote it is fine, perhaps with a few tweaks or even some gutted scenes. But that's me. I hate doing things over.

Love them epiphanies... except when they come at dark o'clock as I'm just... drifting... off to... sleep. =)
Revising! Such a better word!

Y'know, I rarely have them at night as I'm falling asleep. It's always when I'm out of the house, doing something completely unrelated to the book. That old advice about keeping a notebook next to the bed? Pointless, for me. I keep a little notebook in my wallet instead.
Personally, I don't mind rewriting. This character epiphany also means there is going to be a major revision in the plot at well. New doors open up--new scenes emerge. It's like entering a house of mirrors with this revision. It looks like the same story line, but it's oh so very different! Revising then becomes very exciting.
I'm not sure that it's good advice, but I'm with B.R. on this. I immediately get involved in what happens when I'm making changes. It's a journey of discovery, and I can't resist taking it.

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