Editing That Old Novel You Forgot About!

We all have one. Or two, or four or ten. Those old novels/short stories that we put away to collect dust. The idea was lame, it was too hard to finish, we didn’t like the end result, etc. But there may come a time when you feel ready to work on it again.

I can’t say I ‘forgot’ my old novel, which is really only around two years old (when I first started drafting), but I haven’t done much work on it since my thesis defense back in April. Since then, I’ve written a second novel and I’m taking a one month break from that to let my Beta readers have a crack at it.

I thought about sitting on my hands and just reading until the one month break is over but I WANT TO WRITE! I may end up writing a new novel entirely but this week I’m going to try rewriting my old novel. Here’s my plan so far and some tips that might help you rework that dusty manuscript!

1. Be honest about how much work your draft needs

This all depends on how polished your draft is, although if it was polished enough, you probably wouldn’t have left it to die a slow painful death in your desk drawer.

The best thing about time away from your novel is that it gives you a fresh perspective. Like when you buy a new shirt at the mall but don’t notice that weird stain on the bottom until like a week later. You’ve spent countless hours on your novel, critiquing it honestly right after its birth would be next to impossible.

Back when I first finished my 400 page whopper, I couldn’t imagine rewriting it. But I was never fully satisfied with the story, even though other people enjoyed it. Looking at the damage, I can say with confidence that my time would be better spent rewriting the whole thing rather than trying to fix all the mistakes.

2. Reevaluate Your Audience and What’s Trending

Your audience is so much more important than people realize. Especially if you actually want other people to read your book. Even just a month could change the timeliness of your story.

This is especially true for young adult writers. Of course there are the classics that never get old, the coming of age tale and the love story, but what’s hot right now is constantly changing. This year was the year of #blacklivesmatter and LGBTQ novels.

You don’t need to write to fit trends but you definitely want to follow them so you know what your target audience likes. I also find it important to read trending YA so I know how to set my novel apart.

3. Reconsider structure and POV

Before focusing on changing your main character’s eye color back to brown, you might wanna rethink writing from 17 different perspectives.

The bigger issues are going to take more time and work so you wanna get that out of the way first. This could mean fixing the plot or changing the point of view from which the story is told.

Currently, my novel is told from third person past tense. Which isn’t common for YA novels, most of which are told in first person present for a closer read. I’m not changing my POV just because it’s standard for YA but because I know it will make it much easier to write and will provide for a better emotional experience for the reader.

4. Think about which characters may need work and which need to go

The characters breathe life into the story. If something’s not right with them, it can throw the whole novel out of wack.

Your characters need to want something and they need to make an effort to try and achieve that goal. That’s what most books consist of, people wanting things and trying to get them. Now, they don’t have to go about it the smart way or even succeed but they need to try. Otherwise it’s navel gazing and it’s boring.

Some characters may have been put in the story for convenience. You’ll know who they are because they’ll disappear for long lengths of time or they’ll always be around but won’t say/do much. Get rid of them and make your writing easier.

5. As always, PLAN AHEAD!

I’ve made the mistake of sitting down to revise or rewrite with no plan in mind. I come up with an idea and then after a day or to of writing, I’m over it because I don’t like it. Then I step away from the novel for another month.

You need to take some time to write a list of issues you have with the novel and changes you want to make. Since you’ve already written the novel, it’s okay to plan it out until the end for revisions. For reference, here’s my current plan:

+Change POV to 1st Person Present
+Consider if we need 3 POV’s
+Plot out individual story arcs for each character
+Cut unnecessary characters and flesh out the ones we have
+Consider the moral of the story
+Develop plot for sequel

Will I do it all in that order? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s something to work with which you’ll find is better than nothing.

In Conclusion…
Returning to an old project can be a scary thing, especially if you’ve tried to revise it and things haven’t worked out. You have to ask yourself, is this a story that has potential to be great? It doesn’t have to be great now, you don’t even have to know if you’re capable of making it great, you just have to know whether or not it has potential and start from there!

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