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.