Oops…I did it again.

By Brett Battles

 

It seems like only a year ago I was finishing a book that experienced a few bumps along the way…to recap:

a) I was writing my first standalone

b) Everything was going well, then, when I’d reached around the 200ish page, I stumbled upon another book set in the exact same locale with a very similar plot

b2) it was by an author I knew

b3) …an author I’d already asked to blurb this book once I finish it

c) I then had to start basically from scratch (kept the locale, and the first line, but everything else was new)

RESULT: The whole experience from first page of the discarded story to last page of a semi-polished draft of the new direction all took place from beginning of September to end of December last year because I HAD to get it done.

Oh, so…yeah…it WAS a year ago.

Why do I bring this up? Because it just happened again.

Okay, not EXACTLY the same way, but the results were similar.

This time, instead of a standalone, I had this new series I wanted to start. The idea for the first book had been swimming around my head for months, and, for various reasons I’ll go into sometime in the future, the time to write it had come.

I did even more prep work than usual this time, creating a timeline using butcher paper and colored post its. I had characters named, and detailed back stories figured out before I put one word of the actual novel to paper. Then I dove in.

The action scenes were working out great, the settings were intriguing, and the interplay between the main characters was exactly what I’d hoped for.

In no time, I’d written 288 pages. I was going to have the first draft done before Thanksgiving, well ahead of my end of the year deadline.

The problem was, that 288th page? That was the last one I wrote on that version.

Why? Well, the next morning I woke up no longer able to ignore the nagging little voice in the back of my head. It kept repeating the question, “You DO know what kind of book this is becoming, don’t you?” The problem with your mind asking you a question like that is you usually already know the answer. And I did.

I hadn’t been writing the first book of a new series. I’d been writing a book that, with some name changes and a few additions, could easily be the fifth book of my Quinn series. That’s great for Quinn. I now have a massive start on his next adventure. But it sucked for my new guy, because having him be just another Quinn was absolutely NOT what I wanted. And his was the book I needed to write now.

This realization coincided with an out of town conference I had to go to. So I spent the time away letting my mind stew on a solution. My answer? The basic idea behind the story was still useable, it was just everything else had to change, starting with the point of view.

So the following Monday I was back at my desk, starting at the very beginning.

One big change was that instead of writing the story in third person, this new version is entirely in first. This helped me get into my characters head a hell of a lot better than the previous direction had. As for the rest, I thought at first I might be able to salvage some of the work I’d previously done, and use an adjusted version, but that didn’t end up being the case. Turns out there was only one scene I even slightly borrowed from.

But I’ve got to say, since this restart, things have flowed like crazy, and that nagging voice in the back of my head has not made a reappearance.

If everything sticks to my plan, I should be finishing a first, full draft tomorrow. I still have a lot of work to go. There are many things I know I need to add to the next draft, and a ton of things that need to be cleaned up. But I’m well on my way, and this should be done and ready to go not long after the New Year begins. When that happens, you’ll hear a big sigh from the West Coast.

God, I hope this doesn’t happen to me on the next one! If there’s something a new novelist can learn from my experience, it’s that if you really want to be a published author, it’s all about persistence and constantly pushing yourself to be better. I could have just kept going with that first version. I could have been satisfied with a variation on a theme I’d already established. But I don’t want to just cruise or settle or repeat. I want to get better. Always. And sometimes that means going back to the beginning.

So, anyone have writing horror stories you were able to overcome that you’d like to share? Love to hear them!

26 thoughts on “Oops…I did it again.

  1. Brett Battles

    Sorry for the delay posting this morning, folks. Had it scheduled last night only to wake this morning and see that it wasn't activated yet. Ugh. Obviously I set something wrong. Operator error.

    Reply
  2. PK the Bookeemonster

    Not being in the writing biz I don't have a horror story to share, but I do have a question. If you read in the same genre as you write, how do you keep from unintentionally borrowing from someone else's work? The ideas are flowing, etc., but they're accidently flowing from something you read in the past.

    Reply
  3. Spencer Seidel

    Hi Brett —

    I love that all the posts here lately have focused on the angst we as writers often feel about our work. Although I'm a plotter, I have abandoned and restarted my last 2 novels, at least partially.

    In Dead of Wynter (coming out next May), I was about 3/4 done before I realized that I hated the direction my bad guy was going. I jumped ship, came up with a new plan, and started from scratch. It's always painful as hell, but it's not time wasted. You learn so much from doing that and end up with a much better novel. I at least finished the first draft of my new manuscript before cutting it in half and starting again.

    It all part of the process for me! Great, honest post.

    Spence

    Reply
  4. Debbie

    Hey, the title when it did appear made me laugh! Do you suppose, being both a writer and a person with a creative mind, that changing direction and/or writing something new is only a challenge because of deadline pressures? And if I'm correct, didn't you write 50K in just three weeks? Glad that you're on track and that you have material well fleshed out for another novel. You're an inspiration.
    Best horror story I can recall was posted here earlier in the year titled Blank. Still gives me shivers.

    Reply
  5. Grace

    Congrats for not taking the easy way out and remaining true to your vision. I am learning just how many stumbling blocks there are when pen hits the paper. Great post.

    Reply
  6. James Scott Bell

    "it’s all about persistence and constantly pushing yourself to be better."

    That's the nut graf, as they say. Good on you, Brett. Can't wait to see the results.

    I was about 200 pages into one of my early (and contracted) novels when I read with horror the squib about a novel just published. Exact same premise. I did not like the feeling breaking out on my skin. I had to throw it out. Had to come up with a new one. I did and it all worked out. But only with the cold sweats for awhile there.

    Hey, who said this gig was going to be sunshine and lollipops?

    Reply
  7. Doug

    I have yet to finish my first book. The process you describe though is *very* familiar – and it's the reason I'm still struggling to complete the first draft. Can't tell you how many times I've had to scrap everything and start over.

    So….hearing about this from a published author – especially from someone I respect – sort of serves as a bit of a relief.

    I think what you said near the end is key: you can't ever settle; you have to keep pushing yourself to be better.

    Reply
  8. Eika

    Realizing I accidentally did that is my biggest fear. I don't know if I would be able to start over after putting so much effort into it. *shudders*

    On the other hand, I currently have an idea on hold. I love the characters, and I know some of the scenes are excellent, but I realized- 25,000 words in- that it didn't really have a plot. It had a whole lot of 'This is cool and shiny!'- but no plot. And I've come up with lots of plots, but nothing that'll work for that character. (Which at least makes me sure I couldn't be writing the exact same character under a different name now.) So, it's on indefinite hiatus.

    Oy.

    Reply
  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    I go through the same process every other week with my blog. I'm usually rewriting the fourth draft at midnight of the day it's due.

    Reply
  10. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Brett, this is a great post. Can totally relate. About this time in the pro process I think ideas are starting to overlap, and one of the new balls we have to start juggling is how to recognize the overlap and separate out storylines that need to be in different books. I learned that as a screenwriter, too. You describe it really well.

    I actually have a full first draft of a book I wrote a year and a half/two years ago that I can't go back to at the moment because it just reminds me of a time that is way too painful, personally, still. It seems so stupid – it's a WHOLE BOOK – but I just can't look at it.

    Reply
  11. KDJames

    Yes, I did this. Sort of. Started writing what I "thought" was a romance, got bored with it (I am not cut out to write romance), added a few more twists and plot developments so it was more interesting and decided I was really writing romantic suspense, or maybe a thriller. In my inexperience, I didn't realize I should have just started over. As a result, the beginning of the book had a vastly different tone than the rest of it. When I was about two-thirds done, I sent the first couple chapters out for feedback. Everyone was full of high praise and one of them even said, "It was a fun read." She meant it as a compliment. Sigh.

    Once I stopped swearing, I started over. It has been a valuable learning experience. Damnit.

    Reply
  12. Laura

    When I wrote stories growing up, I realised I was just rehashing all the Sweet Valley High titles… as I got older and more widely read I realised just how much of the Sweet Valley series was actually 'rehashed' classics and such. (Did not stop me loving them though! I was a bit disppointed though that Francine Pascal did not in fact come up with the idea for "Groundhog Day")
    Good luck with it! And congrats on getting it done. I really admire people who can write.
    I swear to God even today, if I were to put a pen to paper I'd come up with some dumb-ass version of a Sweet Valley High book. (Worse yet, I probably wouldn't realise it til I was done and have this horrible – oh that's familiar! Feeling…)
    Have a great weekend!
    Laura πŸ™‚

    Reply
  13. Kagey

    I haven't thrown pages away, but I did rewrite 100+ pages to get from third to first person. I was actually stuck. Completely. Had no idea what happened next, and worse, was beginning to not care what happened next.
    Then a writer friend read my WiP, and said, "but what is (main character) thinking here?" And I realized that I knew *exactly* what she was thinking. And then I realized that I would be closer to the story in first person, and while rewriting the beginning chapters, I was able to flesh out the rest of the outline of the book.
    But to realize what you're writing is 100% wrong and toss it! Yikes. Some days, just walking into a library or bookstore is enough to make me want to quit writing, since any good idea I might come up with must be there already, probably in multiple incarnations.
    (And Laura — as for Sweet Valley High re-hashing classics — that's what Barbie doll movies do, too. I shudder to think my daughter is learning about the Three Musketeers via Barbie, but there you go.)

    Reply
  14. Howard Shrier

    When I first approached the woman who is now my agent, she read my 400-page manuscript and said something like, "You're a terrific writer. You have a great voice. Your lead character is great. But the story sucks. What you have here is basically Act One. You need to tear it down and start over." had already spent two years on the book but I trusted her judgment. So I reworked it and reworked it for 14 months until she was happy with it. Two months later, I had a two-book deal with Random House. As Brett says, it's not the first go that succeeds. It's the one that comes many drafts later.

    Reply

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