I’ve never had to rewrite a novel.
I’m not saying that to brag either. Honestly, the only reason I’ve never had to rewrite or restart a novel is because I never finished one to the point where I needed to. So, not exactly a big win on my part.
But when I started writing seriously back in June, I knew a ton of edits and rewrites were in my future. But as a tried and true outliner, and I never thought I would have to completely scrap a manuscript and start over. Ha. Oh how naive I was. Back in June, I realized I wasn’t making the type of progress I wanted on my first draft of Ocean’s Daughter. Characters felt flimsy, plot points were rushed and didn’t make sense, and every time I tried to go back and fix it I only made a bigger mess. So I finally decided to scrap it altogether.
This was not an easy decision. After pouring hours of work into this draft the last thing I wanted to do was start over. But the more and more frustrated I became, the clearer it was. I needed to save this story while I still could. If I was going to make this work, I had to start back from the beginning.
Sometimes some novels just need a little more work than others, and it’s tough to come to terms with it. But that doesn’t make them bad novels. And just because you might need to restart, it doesn’t mean you should give up! It just means that your novel might benefit from a little extra care, and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, your novel is worth it. So how do I know when it’s time to start over? I have 6 things I look for.
6 SIGNS YOU NEED TO RESTART YOUR NOVEL
1. Your characters don’t know who they are
It can be fun to discover our characters along the way. Even those of us with deep and complex character sheets will probably wind up learning something new about them while in the midst of writing. But sometimes it’s not all fun and games. Why was your character cowering in a corner in Chapter 2 and suddenly brandishing a sword like a pro three chapters later? Or maybe she made a big deal of protecting and loving her younger brother in the intro, and then shrugged her shoulders when he’s sent off to boarding school.
Sometimes these things are due to character growth. But sometimes it’s a sign that we don’t really know who our characters are. If you’ve reached the middle of the novel and your characters still don’t feel like real people, it might be time to slow down and analyze them a bit deeper.
You ever read a book or see a movie where you couldn’t give two figs for the hero or heroine, and all you wanted was to see more of their quirky, interesting best friend? Yeah, that happens to writers too.
I don’t really know why, but sometimes that walk-on character simply demands the audience, and suddenly you want to follow them around for the next 200 pages. Listen to your gut. Maybe that character wants to be the star of their own novel and you should cut them and store them for a later project. Or maybe they already ARE the star of the novel-the one you’re working on. Figure out what makes them so interesting. Could your novel be better served with someone else as the protagonist?
3. Things are moving too quickly
4. You’re not getting anywhere
On the flip-side of moving too quickly, sometimes it can feel like absolute ages for anything interesting to happen. Of course, not every novel is filled with explosions and fight scenes and car chases, but even so, your novel should progress forward in some way. Slow scenes, fast scenes, all of them should be moving the reader along and hold weight. If your novel feels stagnant, it probably wouldn’t hurt to reexamine what’s going on.
5. Everything is in the wrong place
You’re in the middle of Chapter 5 and you referenced something that should have happened in Chapter 2. Alright, so you leave a note to add that in. Then you hit Chapter 7, but it feels like that event should have happened before Chapter 3. Okay, so leave another note to fix it. But then you reach the climax and you can’t remember if we’re supposed to reference Important Thing that happened in Chapter 4 or Chapter 9. Confused yet? I am.
For those who don’t outline, this type of writing might be par for the course. But if everything feels too scrambled and overwhelming and you’re just left frustrated, jotting down a quick outline or list of events to start over with might be the ticket.
6. You just don’t CARE anymore
I know, we all hate to admit it, but sometimes a novel is just dead. I’m not talking about those difficult, sticky bits in the middle we all have to plod through or those annoying plot-holes that keep cropping up. I mean when you’re staring at the screen, swearing at the keyboard and wishing you could write just about ANYTHING else but another word on this manuscript.
So…why not? Unless you’re stuck to a contract, why torture yourself? I’m not saying to give up every time it get difficult, because it will always get difficult. But if there is absolutely no spark left, no joy or excitement or the tiniest ounce of interest left in you for this novel, why shouldn’t you move onto something else? As painful as it is to admit, not every idea is worth pursuing.
As authors, rewrites are inevitable. Whether it be minor edits, multiple drafts or completely starting over, it’s going to happen at some point in your writing journey. With luck, you might be able to make a few changes and salvage your manuscript, but if you need to totally go back to the beginning just keep in mind your in good company. Ultimately your novel will be stronger for it. You can do this!
Have you ever had to restart on a novel? Why? How was your process of starting over from scratch?