Friday, November 30, 2007

Write On ... or Not to Write On

How do you choose?

After an earlier blog -- whose was that? -- and the discussion following about the number of books and short stories each of us have written, I've given it a lot of thought. Not a lot of thought about the numbers, but thought about writers such as Genene, who rework the same work until they come up with something saleable. Or at least something pleasing or satisfying.

I've thought about Shirley Karr (Man, I hope I spelled her name right). She labored away for more than 10 years on the same book, endlessly writing and rewriting until she finally sold it to Avon in a two-book deal.

It seems reworking the same book is more the exception than the rule. As someone said, take a look at the First Sales column in the RWA mag and count how many books most authors write before they finally sell. Usually many. Does that mean they write a book, try to interest an agent of editor with it, and if that doesn't work, the author moves on to another manuscript? Do you think a writer learns more by starting a new novel, fresh at the drawing board, or going back through an existing work, applying the tools they've learned since they first began writing the manuscript?

Shirley Jump thinks you learn more by starting fresh. When she was the guest author for Askanauthor, I wrote and mentioned my first ms. and rewrites I'd like to do. Her advice was to move on. She wrote six or seven books, I believe, before she sold. Her theory is that when I do sell, I will have a backlist to offer an editor.

But see, I'm not always so good at taking advice. I like to think for myself. Oh, I know, you find that hard to believe, but just ask my family. Ha! Anyway, I cannot let my first book go. Some of the characters in it won't leave me alone. I'm dying to go back, do major rewrites, and turn it into something saleable, like Genene and Shirley did with the books they believed in.

So, I'm curious. How many of you have gone back to an old manuscript or story and done major rewrites? Was it worth it? Did you learn a lot in the process? Or do you just leave finished, unsold work to gather dust in your computer files, chalk it up to experience, and move on to the exciting, fresh voices in your head of brand new characters?

35 comments:

Karen Duvall said...

Danita, that was my blog about taking inventory of what you've written. As far as writing something new verses rewriting a first book, I recommend doing both. For one thing, the fresh start is a boost to your creativity, and for another, a first book may not be your best effort no matter how many times you rewrite it.

My very first book I got over after rewriting it about three times. It was just too flawed to fix, and I'd already moved on to new, more exciting ideas. I consider it my learning book. But I have another finished book, my third one, that hasn't sold, and I'm more in love with that one and won't let it die quietly. I'm going to repurpose it for YA and have already started the process. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Do what your heart tells you to do. Maybe that first book will never sell for whatever reason, but if it's important enough to you and you want to keep working on it, go for it. Just be aware that that book may not take you where you want to go. You'll have a better chance of selling if you move on to a new story, IMO.

Alice Sharpe said...

Danita -- I think if you feel so strongly that the first book is not something you want to let go then you shouldn't let it go. Things like this are subjective. This is the book about the woman reporter? She's a hoot and I can see why you want to keep her around.

I didn't sell the first book I wrote but a piece of it did get bastardized into the second book I sold. And likewise, like I was saying a couple of days ago somewhere on this blog, I had an idea for a book fifteen years ago at a conference during another writer's workshop.

WHat came to me was a downed plane. A hiker comes across the plane. The pilot is dead, but there's a woman passenger on the ground. The woman is dead, but not of wounds caused by an accident, she's been shot. Under the woman is a brand new baby still alive, and it's up to the heroine to save the baby. There's a killer loose on the hill and the sound of gunfire underlines the need for urgency. She finds the hero at last. He's hiding out from a crime he didn't commit. In the end, the baby proves to be his, the plane was hired by the killer to find him, the mother of the baby hired to point out his truck or something. It all tied together.

I presented the idea just about like that to a Harlequin editor 30 minutes after I thought of it (I happened to have an appointment.) She was as excited about it as I was. I went home and submitted three chapters and a synopsis, Intrigue looked at it, asked for rewrites. I took out the new baby, made the h/h meet sooner, tightened the bad guy's POV--everything they asked. None of it worked for them. I now understand what I did wrong, but at the time it was a major disappointment as my heart has always been in mysteries and suspense and there I was writing light, funny romance.

Anyway, fast forward to six months ago when I was digging around for a plot for the second brother in the series I'm writing, and I thought of this guy. At first, his backstory kept getting in the way of me advancing a new plot. I couldn't let go of some of the defining situations but they didn't fit and they hadn't worked the first time. I finally, literally, started over and now all that remains is a man accused of and framed for a crime he didn't commit, hiding out and found by a woman who comes to believe him. I think that's it. The heroine is different, there's no downed plane, no rescued baby. Everyone has their own story now and this book is about them. But the seed came all those years ago (and the editor who turned down the original -- rightly so -- is now the senior editor who acquired it. NEVER get snotty and burn bridges.)

So, my advice to you is keep at your book if that is where your heart is, but maybe be open to changing the things that slow the book down or defy imagination or stick out to you as not belonging. You know more about writing now than you did when you started that book. More about plotting and tension, etc... and perhaps it's time to shake it up with that new knowledge in mind. The other word of warning is that contemporary fiction ages like everything else and something new and fresh a couple of years ago can sound tired now, so perhaps look for ways to shake out the inevitable cobwebs, too. Try switching POV, from present to past to first person and see if a little of that reawakens something in your heroine.

Way more than you asked for! Sorry, just got going. Okay, back to work and good luck!

Alice Sharpe said...

Danita, writing down that whole thing reminded me of a major oops! I committed during this time. I already wrote for Silhouette who was bought by Harlequin, making them two houses under the same roof with offices literally across and down the hall from each other. Publishing sisters, so to say. So I pitched to a Harlequin editor because this wasn't a book that would fit my market with Silhouette. Of course, it all came out because I wasn't trying to hide anything and besides, they have computers and track authors, etc... so I get a call from my Silhouette editor informing me I had committed a major no-no, the book should have come to her first. I had no idea anyone there cared about where I sent a book. As it wasn't an option book, I thought I could send it wherever I chose and that's true, I could, but protocol said not within the same house.

I was naive!

Ah, memory lane.

Paty Jager said...

Danita, I think it is up to each individual and how much they believe in the book.

Perfectly Good Nanny was an overhaul. It started out with a stalker after the heroine and ended with her running from her guilt over a miscarriage and failed marriage.

My first Historical romance will never see the light of day, however my second one had two characters who will someday either through that same story or another one will come out and be the basis of a publishable book. I understand now why it didn't work at the time. I didn't understand external and internal conflict. she had it, but the hero didn't. Not a smidge of conflict for him.

My spririt books- I've been back and forth about whether to take the romance out and try to make them strictly historical, but it's the romance that sets this book apart for me.

I liked your first book and think if it is really calling to you, go through it like Alice said and see what you can do with what you've learned since writing it. The characters are fresh and the writing fun to read.

I hope some up our comments help!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

My CP and I have had this discussion many times, Danita. I'm of the "move on" mentality, she's of the "go back and rework" mentality. Neither is right or wrong, per se, so long as whether it's old work or new work, as a writer you're continually growing.

My first book was total crap. My second was fun but there are elements that make it unpublishable. The third is really the book I keep coming back to. It's been revised a handful of times, shortened, reworked, changed. I don't know that it'll ever sell, but I do have hope. Am I going to rework it again? I have no plans to do so because I'm focused on moving forward right now, but like Shirley Jump said, I'm not giving up on it. I'm hopeful that maybe, someday, when I do sell, someone will want to pick it up. For now though, it doesn't make sense to try to rework it again when I'm focused elsewhere.

Elisabeth Naughton said...

None of it worked for them. I now understand what I did wrong, but at the time it was a major disappointment as my heart has always been in mysteries and suspense and there I was writing light, funny romance.

Okay, Alice. I'll bite. What do you now understand you did wrong with this proposal? (And your pitch about it sounds totally fab, btw!)

Alice Sharpe said...

LOL, Eli. What I did wrong:

1. The major mistake was this -- I did not understand that specific market. I did not take time to really analyze what Intrigues were about. Years later when my Silhouette editor "walked" a book across the hall to Intrigue because she thought it fit them better, I asked for a stack of Intrigues and read each one. I figured out the underlying elements. Not plot devices, not hooks, not locales or conflicts, etc... but the themes that ran through every book. Once I had identified the major two I could make them my own and use them in ways that serve my style. Male as a protector was one, the other was the sense of impending disaster. I dropped that ball, too because...
2. I didn't understand the importance of tension and pacing. It's different in a mystery than a regular romance.
3. The story was too "big" and not in a good way. It was spread out here and there and everywhere. I lost focus and I also lost a grounding in reality that is always important even when the story is a little off the wall.
4. the h/h didn't meet soon enough, even after I fixed it.
5. The story didn't have any hooks after I finished with it. As hooks are devices by which a publisher can market a book, no hooks, tougher sales.

I'd written and sold RS and mystery before this attempt but in a different market where a book could mosey along. Frankly, even after having written a half dozen Intrigues, I couldn't make that original story work for many of these same reasons. Some ideas just have fatal flaws like you said your first one did.

Danita Cahill said...

Karen,

I like what you said about doing both -- rewriting and a fresh start.

Like your first book, I've rewritten this one twice. Once more would either make it or break it. I guess only time will tell.

Danita Cahill said...

Thanks Alice,
I enjoyed the plot story -- the old, the new, the revisied and I'm glad Eli asked the question about what you've learned because I was about to ask it myself.

And yes, you're right about needing major revamps to my first book. It is the one about the crime reporter -- Red Moon Rising -- and it's written in too chick litty a voice for today's market. My thought is to keep the heroine and her best friend, but maybe think up a new hero, and a new setting. I'm thinking about Reno...We'll see how sexy the new hero is. If he makes the cut, which I guess he'll have to, I'll probably up the romance in the old ms. as well.

Danita Cahill said...

Alice, I suppose like hairdressers are possessive of their color-weave and perm clients, editors are probably possessive of their authors. Maybe they get a finder fee even if they turn the book over to another editor?

I'll comment more tomorrow. I am off to play Bunco. It's Hawaiin night. Ha. Nothing says "a night in the tropics" like a dice game with 12 women, 42 degree weather and a forecast of snow tomorrow.

Aloha for now!

Genene said...

Interesting discussion!

I have to agree with the advice to do whatever your heart tells you to do. With my first book, the characters wouldn't leave me alone.

I did work on other stories in between rewriting that first one, and I have dozens of ideas for stories -- some of which are brilliant (LOL) and others which are probably not worth lighting a match to burn the paper they are written on. :)

I was intrigued by Karen's inventory blog, but was afraid to start digging through my writing files, knowing I would get sidetracked for half the day. My "short list" has 19 fairly well-developed ideas and partially written stories, including one that could become a series. Then there's my filing box or two of other ideas!

I think I need Alice's help in sorting through what's marketable and what's not! (After the first of the year, of course!)

Danita Cahill said...

Okay,

Bunco was a jolly grand time. I didn't win a blasted thing, but I got into the whole Hawaiin groove by wearing my sarong and bikini top over my clothing. Sexy definitely doesn't describe the way I looked, but I'm sure there's a word out there somewhere which does....

Danita Cahill said...

Paty,

I remember when you had to overhaul PGN. It worked out well for you too -- you have the review to show for that.

Thanks for believing in RMR. I'm thinking of trying to get rewrites finished by next summer for a contest you told me about. (It will take me that long. The book would be ripped to pieces and reassembled).

Danita Cahill said...

Eli,

I bet you do wind up back at that third book of yours at some point. Sounds as if, like mine, it won't quite let you go.

In between major projects I write shorter stuff -- short stories and articles, and last time I wrote a novella. That's another work I may someday revamp. We'll see.

In the meantime, I have plenty of book ideas. What writer doesn't have mega ideas? But none of them are fleshed out enough yet, or tugging at me hard enough to make me need to write them. They are still perculating, waiting for the right time.

Danita Cahill said...

Alice,

I'm so glad you figured out what drives an intrigue and makes it work. Thank you for your generosity in sharing what you've learned with it too. We all respect you, your wisdom and your sharp wit. I know you can't hear the inflection in my voice, but believe it or not, I say this without a trace of sarcasm. Truly.

And has anyone tried using the new nickname feature on the comment section? When I wrote about bunco, I tried the nickname "Hawaiin Goddess" but did it show up as "Hawaiin Goddess said..."? Nope, plain old boring, "Danita Cahill said...". So, what the heck good is having a nickname feature if it doesn't work? This is my question of the day for blogger shmogger.

Danita Cahill said...

Genene,

I value your opinion very much in this poll since what I'm thinking of doing worked for you. So, thank you.

As far as oodles of ideas, I imagine that's where an agent or editor with time would be a dream -- you could bounce ideas off him or her and see if she thought any of them were worth pursuing.

In Reno I went to lunch with a big pack of pubbed authors and the conversation turned to this thread. Several told of how many of their grand ideas were shot down by their agent or editor while searching for the elusive breakout idea.

I too have so many ideas I'm not sure which new one to pursue next. I have the second book to Red Moon Rising all ready started, but abandonned it when I didn't sell Red Moon, although I havent' given up on it yet. I like the story idea and, like I said earlier, some of the characters. I have three suspenses plotted and notes on all of them, but the one that's gently tugging at me is not a romance and deals with a political issue. I'm not quite sure what to do with that. It would be a mainsteam story and quite different from anything else I've written.

brainstormer said...

Genene--Sounds like a brainstorming party!

Yea!

Still Kicking said...

Danita, the nickname feature worked a moment ago for me when I used to to respond to Genene, so I'll try it again for you. Thanks for the nice words. It sounds like a eulogy. You don't know something I don't, do you?

Alice Sharpe said...

BTW, I'm the one playing with the Nickname button. I didn't realize it didn't leave your name!!!

cowpaty said...

LOL- I was just going to try the nickname thing.

Hows the word count today Alice? I haven't typed any since I had a book signing today, but hope to remedy that after I feed my dh.

Alice Sharpe said...

Hey Cowpaty, tell us about your booksigning. How did it go?

Word count minimal. Last few pages creep along as I tune and retune. Plus, day to see my Mom and shop. Ack!

cowpaty said...

Book signing- 3 people showed up sold 6 books. I actually managed to get some research reading done in between people. Than afterwards I stopped a Big R and ran into someone I knew, she asked if I was on my way to my book signing. I said, "No actually, I just came from there." She thought it started at 2 not got over at 2- so I signed and sold her a book in the parking lot!

And I have lots of cookies left over!

Genene said...

(I tried to leave this comment an hour ago, but was in the wrong browser and it froze up. Sigh.)


Danita, fortunately the book I'm going to work on next is one that's about three-quarters finished AND it's also the one that's pulling me to finish it!

But I have been in the "which book do I write" mode many times. And since I haven't reached the prolific stage in my writing, that really messes with what progress I could have made on one story. So I've also reached the point of deciding which book to work on and sticking with it. At least until an editor or publisher waves a six-figure advance in my face to work on another story! LOL!

Genene said...

Hey, Brainstormer! Thought we had some drop in commentors on the blog -- who knew us awfully well!

On my browser, the nicknames show up in black and the usual sign-ons show up in blue and underlined. Little bit of trivia there if anyone cares. :)

A brainstorming party could be fun -- and entertaining to drag out some of my old folders of notes, especially the older stuff. I'm sure some of that should never see the light of day, but it could be worth a chuckle.

Danita, I hope someone got pictures of your Hawaiian night bunco party. Maybe we could borrow that idea for a brainstorming party!

Hey, Paty, if you sold 6 books to 3 people, that's good! An average of 2 per person or a 200 percent success rate! (Don't quote me on that, as I'm not a mathematician.) And the cookies sound good. But I walked by ice cream bars at a convenience store and they looked good. With the cold weather coming, I must be wanting to pack on the weight or something. Don't want to do that!

Good for those of you who are writing today, whether low word counts or not. I'm going to work on revamping my writing Web site before I venture out to hopefully finish Christmas shopping so I will have at least done something writerly today. Stay warm, all!

Karen Duvall said...

Hey, Paty, sorry I couldn't make it to your signing today. I'd planned on it, but then my husband made plans to take me and his mom to the matinee. We saw August Rush and what a rush it was! I can't recommend this movie highly enough. If you go, bring Kleenex. For a happy cry, not a sad one.

I haven't made much progress on the WIP this week. I haven't counted words yet, but I doubt it's very many. Work gets in the way, but I get in the way, too. 8^) I'm easily distracted.

Danita Cahill said...

Paty,

I'd call your booksigning/parking lot signing a success then. Cool.

Here's hoping everyone gets lots of words logged in today. As for me, I stayed up until nearly 1 AM working on edits. I'm pretty happy with what I got done.

I'm thinking of entereing a contest next month. Someone please kick me in the butt and call me crazy.

Danita

Hawaiin Goddess said...

Genene,

No one got pictures at our Bunco, or Bunko, however you want to spell it. I did have a cop tagging me on the way there and worried he would pull me over in my get up. ha!

Danita

Duh said...

Woo-hoo! The nickname thingy worked! I just forgot to check the little circle.

Alice Sharpe said...

Danita -- Cyber kick.....whack! Right on the butt! "What's wrong with you, girl, are you crazy?"

That said, maybe a contest is what you need to get re-energized (though the concept of why a pregnant woman with a small toddler three weeks from Xmas needs to be energized by another task is a little fuzzy to me.)

Good going on the edits -- which, of course, are writing.

Danita Cahill said...

Karen,

I thought that movie looked really good. DH and I have an anniversary coming up and I was thinking going to see August Rush might be fun, although DH is more of an action-adventure kinda guy...

Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- I have had much worse book signings than yours! At least you sold a couple of nooks, had a meaningful conversation and a sale in the parking lot on the way home, AND got some research done. Try lurking in a Borders sometime while the loudspeaker announces your hallowed presence in the conversation are located center store and everyone skirts the outer edges of the book stacks to avoid you and that awful eye contact. Ack!

Alice Sharpe said...

Hawaiian Goddess -- I don't need a picture of your whacky ensemble, I conjured one up in my head and had a nice giggle. Would have been funny if the cop had pulled you over, though.

Christmas Goddess ha! said...

Thanks, Alice. I think.

As far as Christmas, thank God I had the foresight to shop early and have wrapping done early too. I even have my snowmen collection out and up, and DH does the outside lights. I'm not a big Christmas baker, so except for the tree and the cards, I'm realy to relax and enjoy the parties. I hate being last minute/fight the crowds at Christmas.

cop bait said...

Oh yeah, Alice.
If the cop had pulled me over, it would have been funny. TO YOU.
Danita

Anonymous said...

And yes, again Paty,
Congratulations on selling a few nooks. Hee-hee!

Gotcha back Alice.