An author’s two choices upon discovering unfixable issues in a draft

Which door to take?

Which door to take?

Today’s post will be a short one, but maybe it will be timely for someone out there. It’s about the issue of a “failed” draft.

As writers, we don’t even like to think about the possibility of a “failed” draft: that is, a draft that, at its core, has multiple issues that require so much change and alteration that, if reworked, the story would look and feel completely different.

Better, yes. But still different.

The first step is to recognize that a draft is in this condition. I worked with the very first novel that I wrote for three years before giving in. It was just too cliche. Too melodramatic. I still love it, personally, for what it is, but the idea of working it into something that would interest other people? That would be impossible without destroying what I love about the story. I

couldn’t make it a “good” novel and keep the things that remind me of persevering through a dark time in life. I couldn’t make it a “good” novel without scrapping all the melodramatic depth that for me is so symbolic.

Sometimes, of course, a fix is available. Problems with a draft aren’t always this invasive. But when they are, we have two obvious options. Which to take just depends on you and your interests and your personality and your needs at the moment.

  1. Rewrite the story, making the needed alterations so that it’s not really the same story, but it reads truer to your original goals, or to new goals you like better.
  2. If that doesn’t feel like an option, you scrap the project and learn from it and move on to write something else. Don’t forget to steal what you can: settings, characters, passages of description…. Your work is your own.

What’s so nice about writing is that, if you feel too heartbroken or too incapable for any reason of working the overhaul right now, you can write a short story or two in between and come back to the project a month, a year, five years later. You might even realize you’ll end up going back. One day three years down the road, you just realize you need to do that.

I don’t know if that will ever happen to me and first novel. I doubt it. I think I’ll always love it for the sincere and pathetic mess it is 🙂 But you never know!


16 responses to “An author’s two choices upon discovering unfixable issues in a draft

  1. Yeah, it definitely depends on the kind of issue an author is having with a novel as to what the solution is. In my case, with my current WIP, I’m working on the sixth draft, each draft being completely rewritten. I’m not giving up on it yet. But I’ve finally accepted the fact that my original POV character was not suitable as the (only) POV character. I’m rewriting now with multiple POV characters. The original POV character will still be one of them, but now he doesn’t have to carry the story all by himself. I feel good about the story’s evolution. But I’m beyond anxious to publish!

    • that’s a fantastic tweak that can make a HUGE difference. Sometimes it’s not a complete swap, but an addition here or a cut there, like you adding more POV characters at different moments! Thanks so much for your example; it’s a great one. And best of luck with your rewrite!

  2. Who knows? if you become a famous author, someone may discover your novel and have it published as an early work. That’s what happened to Harper Lee this year. It also happened to John Grisham and Dr Seuss.

  3. A tough choice. I’ve faced the doors more often than I like. Great post!!

  4. I always fear option 2. Thankfully, my outlines help me adapt and fix issues before I even get to the main writing. Rolling stuff back cures anything book ailments that have come up so far.

  5. The first draft I wrote of my current novel was like this. When I stepped back and took a good look I just knew that it was BAD. Objectively bad, not just in writing but structure, theme and overall execution; there was little to salvage save characters and a handful of ideas. I look back on the changes I’ve made today and although my story’s completely different now it did keep the heart and original intention I was aiming for. I wouldn’t go back to my original draft for any reason.

  6. Thanks, I just quit it and moved on.

  7. I know this isn’t quite the same thing, but I understand what you’re saying and this may assist someone.

    I have written a book (still being edited) which had some massive holes in them in regards to pacing and details. I loved it, but it wasn’t fit for the public, the way it was. My solution was to keep a complete, private copy for myself with all my sentimental parts in… the public can have the more technically correct copy.

  8. Timely post for me, Victoria. Have just blogged about this very dilemma and think your post may have convinced me to let go of my failing novel!

    It’s gonna hurt, but I’ll have to say goodbye!

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