Saturday, December 5, 2009

Blog-to-Blog: What we all can learn from Amy March ...

Take a look at this wonderfully provocative post from Megan Rebekah Blogs. So what's your initial reaction? When I read that "Tweet" about metaphorically burning one's manuscript, I instinctively cringed, as I think any writer who has slaved for months (or years) over a WIP would. And then I had this delayed reaction: "More brilliant words have never been written!" I realized that I myself had basically "burned" the first draft of my current WIP. Here's the back story ...

After I finished the first (personally revised but without beta input) draft of my 160,000 word (roughly 400-page) novel, I sent it around to my BEs for feedback. I got some great critiques - overall, everyone thought it was an enjoyable read. However, a number of people pointed out lags and sags in certain subplots, a couple of dead-weight characters that got too much page time, and some personality inconsistencies. Oh, and let's not forget that little exposition problem I keep mentioning ... ;-)-

After sifting though all this feedback, I felt confused. It was as if I was standing at a multi-pronged fork in the road. One road (a dead-end, really) led to abandoning the novel completely and moving on to something else. This was the road I took with my first novel. However, I had no desire to go there again with this one. So that left two other paths not-yet-travelled ... one leading to the revision of what I'd already written, and the other to a rewrite from scratch.

Of course, the latter sounded like such a monumental undertaking that I didn't even consider it, at first. The sensible choice would be to simply revise my current manuscript, right? And then I thought, what if I spend the next 3-6 months patching up holes and cobbling together new passages with old ones, only to end up with a disjointed Frankenstein monster of a novel?

So what does all this have to do with Amy March, some of you may be asking. (Others of you may be saying, "Who is Amy March?") As a child, Amy March was, in my opinion, the most dastardly villain in all of young adult fiction. Yes, I am referring to Jo's youngest sister in Little Women. She got on my nerves from the get-go with her princessy ways, but the moment she threw Jo's novel into the fire, she became my arch-nemesis. Even as a child of 9, or however old I was when I read Louisa May Alcott's classic, I identified with Jo's trials and tribulations as an aspiring writer. And even when Jo forgave her bratty little sister, I didn't. I mean, how dare Amy burn the manuscript that Jo had toiled over for months?

If I recall correctly, Jo came to realize that rewriting her book was not the end of the world. In fact, it might even be a blessing in disguise. So, nobly, she set to recreating the entire story (and staying on her sister's good side!) Of course, Jo's literary struggles didn't end there. When she finally got a professional editor (her eventual true love ...) to read her book, he dismissed it outright and told her to go back to the drawing board!

So how does this tale fit into our lives as writers? Perhaps it reminds us that we can always improve, and that no time spent writing is ever wasted. Does this mean we should never be satisfied with the work we produce? Of course not! (Goodness knows many of us - myself included - revise our work into the ground to the point that someone just needs to pry the computer out of our hands and put an end to the cycle!)

But I think we all know, deep down inside, when a piece truly does still need work. Start by listening to your beta readers - what are their first impressions? I'll save my detailed analyses of "constructive verses detrimental feedback" for another post, but for now, let's just assume that you have received enough helpful feedback to know that your WIP misses the mark in some way(s). Now it's time to ask yourself, are these critiques minor enough that reworking a few lines here and there (rewriting a couple of passages, or perhaps one chapter, at most) will suffice? Or is what lays ahead of you a major overhauling of plotlines, characters, and writing style?

If you answered yes to that last question (as I recently did), I strongly urge you to go down Burn-That-Book Road. Just remember, we're talking about a metaphorical burning here. Tuck that first draft into your "writing graveyard" folder and open up a brand new Word doc. Do just what that Tweet said and launch into your rewrite from memory. I think you'll be pleasantly shocked, as I was, by how freely and quickly the ideas flow, and by how much more you like the words falling from your fingertips the second time around.


  1. I don't know how I didn't put that connection together myself, considering how much I love Little Women. What a great comparison!

    And now I think I'll have to pull this movie out later and watch it. (although I never watch the very end, because personally I hate Jo's icky old-man husband).

  2. Haha, so funny, I had the same reaction as a kid (ESPECIALLY in the version where Christian Bale played Laurie ... MEOWWWW!!!)

  3. Interesting. I like your comparison, but I'm terrified of having it be true. My husband was updating my computer and asked if there was anything I would hate to lose. I of course did not want to lose my novel. The thought of having to start over again was horrifying. But you're right it is just a rough draft and like I always tell my kids when their lego creations break - start again and you'll probably create something even better.

    Also I love, love, LOVE Christian Bale.

  4. I've heard that rewriting your novel beginning to end makes it better, but it just sounds so tedious. lol. I think someone would have to burn mu laptop (and flash drives) to make me start fresh.

    Karen’s Blog

  5. Haha, believe me KA, I had the same attitude before starting my rewrite ... don't know how I was somehow able to overcome it! And the thought of some computer malfunction taking my work away from me TERRIFIES ME, too. Oh, on that note, that actually happened to me once in law school ... poof went my law journal paper when I had a little seltzer bottle accident beside my laptop. Thank god I had a HARD COPY of it (that's right, no electronic back-up - I have since learned from my idiocy!) I ended up half re-typing the original, half-rewriting on the fly, and I definitely ended up with a better finished product. Still, I wouldn't wish a tech malfunction like that on my worst enemy! ;-)-

  6. I read that advice and thought it was crazy, but now I can see the sense in it. I'm not sure I'd do it, but I can see the benefit.

  7. Well, I'm still in first draft mode, so I have a while before I have to consider this. I hate the thought of having to start over from scratch, but I've learned the hard way to never say never. When it comes down to it, if starting over would be the best thing, I would do it.

  8. I'm in first draft mode now too, so I can't even think about this. But I think it might actually be fun to take a manuscript from a year or two ago and rewrite the whole thing.

  9. You guys have the right attitude, Melissa and Natalie ... how can you get out of bed each morning (or sit down each night) and write if you think you're just gonna junk the whole thing!? I dare say it's not a one-size fits all formula ... I look forward to the day when my writing is so sharp that one draft will be enough ... *here's where we all laugh at my delusion ...* ;-)