Starting From Scratch: the Ever Dreaded Page One Rewrite

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I was in South Carolina when the wheels of my novel stopped spinning. It was last Christmas and we were in Charleston visiting my fiancé’s family. Like the good writer I am, I took my laptop and handy dandy flash drive with me, intent on making a good amount of progress on my novel while I was there. I got up as early as I could in the mornings and wrote until Ron, my fiancé, would knock on the door and ask me if I was “Still working on that same paper.”

Yes I am, I said. And it’s not a paper. It’s a novel.

I should say that “novel” and “any kind of paper” are the same thing to my fiancé. When I’m editing a manuscript he’s amazed and comes into the room several times to ask me if I am going to read that same paper “Again?” When I tell him yes he shakes his head in amazement and walks out of the room.

But I digress.

So there I was, working diligently on my WIP when I started to get the feeling that something was off. I was working on a particular scene that wasn’t ringing true, but I continued nevertheless. And then a horrible thought popped into my head: something about this story is wrong. I ignored the thought and ploughed through anyway, but beneath the surface I knew that there was something not quite right. I just didn’t know what.

When we returned home I did not want to write. In fact, I did everything except write in the mornings. I watched P 90 X commercials (and Insanity and Brazilian Butt Lift infomercials). I sat on the couch and drank my coffee and refused to even look at my laptop. I couldn’t think about those people from my novel. They were making my head hurt.

And then in mid January something odd began to happen; I started imagining the characters from my story in a completely different way; my main character wasn’t a marketing executive, she was a baker! And the antagonist wasn’t an event planner; she owned her own boutique! And the main character’s love interest? He didn’t build houses! He was a super sexy private detective!

And the place was all wrong.These were not city slickers; these were folks living in a small town with nothing to do. So much so that the only thing they had to look forward to was an awful, annual parade. The narrative voice was all wrong and I needed to tell the story from more than one point of view. The people in that town needed to tell their side of the story, and the antagonist did as well.

I gulped when the realization hit me: I needed a page one rewrite.

I won’t go through the litany of curse words I uttered, but I will tell you that I fought it.

What was I going to do with the one hundred and sixty five pages that I had already written? You can make origami for all I care but you have got to start over.

But what about my fantastic first line? You can’t possibly be telling me that I’ve got to get rid of that too? Sorry, toots.

And that flash back scene in the middle? Of all the flashback scenes in the world you have especially got to get rid of that one.

But what about…? Stop your whining and write the thing over, will you?

I was not happy. A page one rewrite? That meant starting from page one! From scratch! And having to come up with another first line! I didn’t want to write no new, stupid f*c*ing first line! I wanted to finish my novel, get a three book deal with Harper Collins or Random House, make the New York Times best sellers list, buy my mom a bigger than she will ever need house, and then start working on my über cool sequel!

Start over? You have got to be kidding me!

But after my tantrum I realized that my story gut was right, so I dragged myself to the computer, rolled up my sleeves, and began hacking away at my outline. Every time I deleted a scene I felt a pang at my heart but I did it anyway. It took me about a week to reoutline the story, and after much trial and error I managed to write a new first line, and the new story was up on its feet and running.

Once I began writing these reimagined characters, something happened that I am almost embarrassed to admit; after all of that hooping and hollering over having to start over, I started swooning over the revised project. Not because I thought what I was writing was so good, but because it felt so right.

My story gut was right, and I, idiot writer extraordinaire, was wrong. So wrong in fact, that when I look at that first draft I’m like what was I thinking? Leena, a marketing exec? Get out of here! Adira, an event planner? Ha!

Why did I fight starting over with such tenacity?

Because of laziness. I didn’t want to do the hard work that was required to make the story better. Reimagining the story, starting over, reoutlining; all of those things take an extraordinary amount of effort, and the thought of having to do all of those things when I had already done so much seemed like too much damn work.

But I can tell you that my story is better for it. Was it a lot of work? Yes. Is my story in better shape? You betcha. The whole thing reiterated something for me that I knew but seemed to keep forgetting; writing a novel is not easy. But there is nothing like being able to type “The End” after you finish writing a story that feels true to who your characters really are.

9 thoughts on “Starting From Scratch: the Ever Dreaded Page One Rewrite

  1. Great post. I went through something similar with my current work in progress ‘twice’. Originally it was a fantasy novel in a past world Tolkien-esque setting. A few years back I decided that it just wasn’t working so I moved it to a futuristic setting instead. That worked for a while (really well) until this year, I realised that what had been a key element of the plot just wasn’t right – I was having to unnaturally mould the characters and their actions around this element which made it all feel false. I removed that element and hey presto, it all fell into place.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Fi Phillips recently posted..Tuesday Choice WordsMy Profile

  2. Oh, goodness, I know just how you feel. It’s a tough position to be in–knowing lots of big changes lie ahead of you–but the result is so worth it. I’m glad to hear you had such clarity of vision! Congratulations on sucking it up and putting your nose to the grindstone. It will pay off 🙂
    Kiersi recently posted..The Characters That Stick With UsMy Profile

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