making sausage

Lessons from a Dumbass: Rewriting a first novel

Rewriting is always an exercise in humility. It is also an exercise in wondering just what the hell past you was thinking, and often the answer is simple enough.

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We wrote the first draft of Star Boys in 2017 and 2018. It was our first long-form, original fiction collaboration, our first attempt at a novel, and was followed by our first foray into the world of publication. It was only after several revisions, a publication offer, putting it on pause and writing our second book, that we realized what we hadn’t before.

Star Boys, as it was, wasn’t really a novel at all.

It was a collection of vignettes clustered around the bones of a great story that we hadn’t bothered to excavate. The setting was there, the characters were there, and the potential was there, but it was buried under 140k of words, about half of which were unnecessary. Flash to May 2019, older and wiser and at this point, actually cognizant of what a novel needs. We dug out that old MS, read two chapters, and immediately decided that it was a flaming hot mess. Hell, more than half the book could be scrapped. We wrote a brand new outline – those bones that had been there before, if we’d bothered to look – threw out half the content, rewrote the rest, and crafted a second half from scratch. It’s been about a month and a half since we undertook to completely rebuild the thing from the foundation up, and we’re at the last chapter.

It’s literally half as long.

It’s at least twice as good.

Turns out that mass murdering your darlings is way easier than strangling them intimately in the bath, and that going back to a story after you’ve learned how to actually write one makes for a much better book. And yes, this means that half the time you’re slapping yourself in the face over all the opportunities you totally failed to seize the last time around, dropped threads, and baffling characterization choices, but it also means that you’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way, such as not including 15 pages of text messages.

Past us may have been clinically stupid, but we wouldn’t be here without them. Thanks, dummies.

 

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