Walking on a Tightrope

I’m rewriting a story. I’ve been rewriting this story for the past two years. Every time I pull it out, I stare at the words on the screen, then decide I’d rather become a tightrope walker without a safety net. Instead of writing, I fold laundry, walk the dust bunnies, and stare out the window at the still falling snow.

I tell myself I’m thinking. Yeah, deep thoughts are good until they turn into the question: What if this story can’t be fixed?

So I put it away, only to pull it out a few months later. And the process begins once again.

Stare, think, jump in the truck and go visit my mom.

I’ve finally figured out that there’s an invisible wall between my current thought patterns and the way my brain worked when I first wrote this story. Back then, I wrote angst. Oh, how I loved to torture my characters, putting them into a world filled with emotional pain. Thumbscrews to the wall. Such writerly fun.

But then I went through a rough patch, a year when I desperately needed laughter in my life and couldn’t dredge any up. So it came out in my writing efforts.

I drafted four romantic comedies, relishing in the snark that showed up on the pages. Laughing with my heroes and heroines as they dealt with family and each other. I discovered a new home for my writing and a new voice to go along with it.

Still, this story drew me back. I loved the hero and heroine and desperately wanted to share them with the rest of the world. Soon laughter spilled onto the pages and my new voice crept into the manuscript. Every time I pulled it out, I bounced back and forth between the old story and new story, between my old voice and new voice, attempting to reconcile the two and find some balance between them.

I’m back at it again, torn between the angst and the humour, attempting to find a structure in which I can incorporate them both. Or maybe I’m just procrastinating, putting off the inevitable difficult work ahead or the realization that this manuscript can’t be fixed, that it needs to go into the deep dark recesses of my computer hard drive and vanish forever like a fugitive on the run.

What do you think? Have you ever decided to rewrite an old manuscript, only to discover you’ve changed and can’t change back? Have you ever had your voice change midstride, then tried to incorporate the new with the old? Have you ever read a book where the author seemed to struggle between two very different author personalities?

Come share your experiences with me. I’m walking on a tightrope, hoping someone will toss me a safety net.

About Sheila Seabrook

Author of contemporary romance and women's fiction.

Posted on March 7, 2012, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. Christy Hayes

    It sounds like you can’t talk yourself out of walking away for good from this manuscript. I’d suggest finishing the rewrites as an exercise in endurance and throwing it out to some beta readers for their thoughts. Hard work? You bet. Is life full of both angst and laughter? Absolutely!

    Another option is to take the main kernel of the idea and do a total rewrite using your new voice. You are a professional, Sheila, and if this manuscript is meant to see the light of day, you’ll figure out how best to get it out to the world. I believe in you 😉

  2. I agree with Christy, Sheila. Take that ms out and rewrite it with your “new” voice and see how it flies. Don’t throw it out forever. You obviously have tried to forget about it and you cannot. So, go with the new flow and get going, girl!

    • You’re absolutely right, Patti. New voice is obviously winning over old voice, otherwise I wouldn’t continue to struggle with it. Thanks for the push to get going! 🙂

  3. Oh Sheila, I’m right there with you on that tightrope. My first book is just like that. Wrote and edited for years, then put it in the drawer. But you’re right – there’s something in that story that keeps sucking you back in. My carrot was, it was so full of tough emotion, and I wasn’t a good enough writer to get it on the page.

    I picked it up this year, and started rewriting – new hero to replace the cardboard one. UGH! Seeing the old book, and the new one at the same time is SO hard!

    Then I sold my bull riding books, and put it away.
    But it’s still calling me. Soon, soon.

    Just don’t look down, Sheila!

    • We must all have a book like that, one we can’t forget. I’ve managed to forget the first six books I wrote — too awful to remember, LOL! — but not this one. I hope you get back to your old book someday, Laura, so we can all read it! 🙂

  4. I’m in a similar spot. My voice hasn’t changed, necessarily; my struggle is in my writing style. I’m a panster to-boot – the possibility of ‘what will happen next?’ keeps my head in the game. The hard part for me comes after I’ve finished my first draft. Now that I know how the story ends, it’s hard for me to commit to the moment with my characters, especially when I know that things aren’t going to turn out the way they thought. I have to really fight to stay ‘in the moment’ with them as I edit/re-write, otherwise the tone of the writing can grow cold and non-committal. It’s a pretty tough mind-game!

    Hope you find your stride!!

    • I hear you, Myndi. The first draft is always so much fun to write, but mine are so messy that the rewrites become a nightmare. Good luck with your book and here’s to stick-to-it-ism for us both. 🙂

  5. I’ve done the total rewrite that others have suggested, and came up with something much better, so that’s certainly a possibility! Whether or not that’s the right choice for you, check out Holly Lisle’s How to Revise Your Novel workshop. It’s not cheap, but it’s totally worth it. It’s brutal, and it will teach you to look at your work in new ways, keeping what’s meaningful to you and tossing what’s not. It totally took my writing to the next level! I have no relationship with Holly other than taking her courses; it’s just that good!

    • I took Holly’s How To Revise Your Novel workshop, Jennette, and it was totally awesome. Hmmm, perhaps it’s time to pull out the lessons and review them so I can stay on track with this book. Thanks for reminding me of the class! 🙂

  6. I love the mix of humor and angst and have them both in varying ratios in all my fiction. All of the suggestions here are great. I would just add to maybe add that I go to the characters themselves for answers because who they are usually holds the germ of the story for me. Good luck, Sheila!

    • As we speak, Alicia, I’m digging deeper into my characters, getting to know them again according to the revised ‘vision’ I have of the novel. Hopefully, that’ll push me into finishing the rewrites this time. 🙂

  7. Sheila, I’m right up there with you on that tightrope rewriting my first manuscript. The changes I’m making are in response to my agent’s comments and it is getting better as I progress along. The problem is: every time I step back in, I see things just a little bit differently. One change leads to another and so on until I’m hip deep again. I need to just make the suggested changes and turn it around. Hopefully–fingers crossed here–it will get done this week, broken hand and all. 🙂
    Don’t give up, your first manuscript is a masterpiece–even if you are the only one who ever sees it!

    • That’s so true, Tracy, and I do the same thing. It’s like with each pass, the story deepens. Wishing you speedy rewrites and hoping your hand heals soon. 🙂

  8. Yep…I have my very first mss I ever wrote…that still “talks” to me to this day because it was my first baby and because I loved those characters so much. Probably also because I worked on it for six years. LOL!! I can look back now after growing and learning so much, and see the problems, but I think one day I’ll have to go visit it again. I can’t let myself use the character names anywhere else “just in case” LOL!

    Good luck on that, Sheila!!

    • Same here, Sharla. Every time I start a new story, I remember that I can’t use the character names from this story because I want to rewrite it. Thanks for the good luck wishes. 🙂

  9. Sheila, ditto to all that has been said. It has happened to so many of us that we can’t keep count. What I have decided to do with that very first one is use parts of it in other places, characters, settings, situations that were in that book might show up somewhere else. I will use the title and fashion a book of the same name, but it will not be the same. It’s my way of holding on to that one precious moment when I first began to write 🙂

    • What a great idea, Florence. Pulling the stuff that worked in other books and refashioning another book around those ideas. One day I will have to look through my really old books to see if I can do the same. 🙂

  10. Coleen Patrick

    I feel the same Sheila! I put away a story that I figured would just be one of those so called practice books–completely cringing to classify it that way considering all the work, but still. Then I wrote another but found myself fixing the other one in my head. I’m a little nervous to go back, but I do have my current wip to work on. We will see. 🙂

    • I wonder if that’s the universe’s way of telling us we’re not done our work there, Coleen? If we’re done, we forget about it. But if we know we can do better, the story continues to haunt us until we give in and rework it. Good luck with your WIP. 🙂

  11. Catherine Johnson

    I feel your pain Sheila, I have ona a bit like that. All my other stories are so short I just whip them up quickly then put them away to marinate for a while, but this MG is being stubborn. I don’t have any angst in it, but I do know what you mean about having to get some angst out in your stories and then realising humour is the best way. I really wanted to write a YA about a difficult situation but it would have been so different to what I normally write and probably rubbish, so I’ve decided if anyone else is going to learn a lesson from this, I should write it as a picture book instead.

    • It’s so nice to know I’m not in this alone, Catherine. And I find the thought of you deciding to use your idea in a picture book intriguing. I hope you one day do so. Thanks for stopping in! 🙂

  12. Sheila, I hear ya! Although I have to say that I love weaving in the new with the old. I used to do interior design and I loved the challenge of taking what was there in a room or house and taking it apart and using some of the old and blending it with the new! I love what Bob Mayer says about novel writing. We need to keep our original idea and theme for our story in front of us everyday so that it will keep us focused on what we originally wanted for our story to the very end of our novel. 🙂

  13. Sheila – If you are drawn back to the m/s, then it’s worth revising or reworking. It’s NOT like it’s your only m/s. It’s NOT like it’s simply a learning experience. You’ve already proved you can write great stories. You’re a Golden Heart writer!

    So, BELIEVE in your vision. You want that story to come out and it will.

  14. What a wonderful group of comments and suggestions you’ve received, sheila. I have had this happen a couple of times – with my first book and the first one I wrote after a long period away from writing.

    I had to start over. both books came out better for that. and in truth, it was easier than fixing an old book – I hate editing. good luck and let us know how it goes.

  15. Maybe you could work it out so it would be a series book. My first book I wrote with the laughter, happiness and love, is ending up being the fourth book in a series, where the first three books take the heroine through tough times, sadness and tragedies before she finally finds her HEA.

    • Karen, turning your book into a series is a wonderful idea. There’s nothing better than getting to spend more time with a favorite character. Thanks for the suggestions! 🙂

  16. Sheila, I had a voice change in my memoir in progress, so that’s part of the reason I did the “vomit” draft and began from scratch. I haven’t returned to it for revisions yet, but hope the complete rewrite will help. I saved around 21 pages, but who knows if they’ll stay. I wish I had a safety net for you. Good luck.

    • This is one of the tricks Holly Lisle talks about in her Revisions class. I’ve thought about it but have never tried it. I’m glad to hear that it works and I may have to do exactly what you did. Thanks for the suggestion, Stacy. 🙂

  17. You already have so many great comments. I don’t think there is much more I can add at this point. I agree, if it continues to speak to you then it needs to be addressed. I think a rewrite in the dominate voice is appropriate. It’s what you will find yourself falling back on most often. Good luck!

  18. Sheila, I just hopped over here from reading Christy’s post on WG2E so I’m not sure if you’ll check back in and see this. It so happens that I’m writing a blog for the Rubies next week about this very thing. I recently did this with The Good Daughter, it was a story I loved, but it needed a total, complete, overhaul. Right now my blog post is a jumble of notes I’m trying to get in some sort of order, but hopefully if you’ll check in with the rubyslipperedsisterhood.com next Thu and Fri you’ll find some tips that will help you.

    • Diana, thanks for the advance notification. I’d love to hear what you have to say about this and will keep watch for the announcement and link for your post. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  19. Wow! Everyone seems to have had this problem or a similar one, Sheila. I would agree with rewriting the major elements of the story in your new voice. Thinking of it as a new draft rather than a rewrite might be helpful.
    I’m experiencing something similar with a short story…it’s long explanation which I’ll shorten to: pubbed as is won’t be accepted by Smashwords and yet I don’t want to rewrite it in a way that would be accepted since it would change the impact of the story for this character. Still stewing over it.
    Good luck with pushing through to work on this novel!

  20. I have several in my proverbial drawer just waiting for me to take them out and polish them up. And I’ll do so–just as soon as I get this current story finished, the next one clawing its way out of me and then of course, there’s the children’s book I’ve been meaning to edit and illustrate…

    Does it ever end?

  21. Marcia, it’s difficult to make the decision between what is right for the story and what is right for the publisher. I hope you resolve this in a way that makes you happy. Good luck! 🙂

  22. LOL Dianne! It’s so lovely when the stories just flow non-stop from your brain. I’ve decided that this will be the last rewrite for this story. If it’s not ready for public consumption by the time I’m done with it, then it will stay on my hard drive where at least it can’t collect dust. 🙂

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