Ripping apart a novel and starting over in real life

Photo by Elbridge Gerry

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you probably know that I’ve been struggling with writing my second novel. About a year ago, I came up with a characters and let them loose on the page. From the beginning, a sense of uneasiness filled me. Something is wrong. Since I’m excellent at denial, I squashed that thought and pressed on, convinced that it would work out in the end.

It didn’t.

One character refused to act. Another screamed at her husband (or sister) at the drop of a hat. Another tried to swoop in like Superman and save the day. None acted sympathetically, really.

Halfway through the first draft, I found that there was a different story thread that intrigued me more than the original one. Fine. But continuing on meant balancing two very serious topics (adultery and growing up fatherless) and doing justice to both.

I finished the first draft, sighed with relief, and began the second draft. Two-thirds of the way in, I realized that I had too many subplots cluttering the main story. I cut two of them. Ah, this is better, I told myself. On I marched to draft number three.

Three chapters into the third draft, I stopped. The uneasy feeling of something being wrong refused to go away. I knew what I had to do to save my novel.

Rip it apart.

And I mean rip it apart at the seams. The entire scenario has changed and with it, the characters change, the plot changes, the mood and theme and dialogue and every single scene is affected by this unraveling of my novel.

I have started over. It’s like writing a first draft—probably the hardest part of novel-writing for me—all over again. Yet some things are easier. I know my characters at a deeper level than I did the first time I met them. I know a few major plot points will remain unchanged. I know it will work this time. I look back at my files of the first few drafts and I see where I went wrong. I’ve gotten to start again.

Sometimes in my life, I’ve wanted to start over and not known how. I muddle through the same situations over and over. My romantic relationships in college are a classic example.

Get depressed.
Think a guy will save me from this.
Go manic.
Be in love with love and think I’m in love with a guy.
Get hurt.
Become depressed again.

It’s not until my life ripped apart at the seams that anything got better. Around my junior year of college, I hit bottom and found my life, my ideas, my preconceived ideas about God and men and myself, all lying in pieces around me. It was devastating. It was also a chance to start over.

The old way wasn’t working. I couldn’t force it to work, no matter how hard I tried. So, just like with my novel, I had to start over. The process was (and is) painful. I fumble for words as I write and I muddle through my days in much the same way. But I hope that when this life is over, the end result will be beautiful.

It’s never too late to start over. 

How about you? Have you ever wanted to start over?


2 thoughts on “Ripping apart a novel and starting over in real life

  1. I feel like you describe my situation exactly. When I wrote my very first draft four years ago, I was happy to have finished it, but I also knew something was very wrong. It took about three drafts for me to realize there was a new, crucial character I needed to introduce, then another draft for me to realize it was actually HER story.

    Like you, I ripped the novel apart at the seams. It was scary but so worth it. Since I finally knew I was on the right path, I was more motivated than ever. Good luck with your revision/rewrite!


    1. Oh, it’s so nice to know that other people have to do this, too! When I was first writing, I had just finished my master’s in English lit. I looked at all these masterpieces and thought that the authors had written them in one draft, perfectly, no major revisions necessary, and I was so discouraged that I couldn’t write like they did. So discouraged that I stopped writing for a while. Then I read that it was okay to write the bad first draft, took the plunge, and three years later had a manuscript in decent shape. I’m revising it now and working on my WIP. Gook luck with your writing!


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