Miscellaneous · Writing Tips

What I’ve Learned Rewriting a Seven-Year-Old Novel

What I’ve Learned Rewriting a Seven-Year-Old Novel

As many of you know, I am currently rewriting November Snow – my very first publication. Although I started writing it when I was 11, it didn’t get published until I was 16. I took it off the shelves for many years, and it is basically off the shelves right now for many reasons, but the main reason is how unprofessionally it was handled. (Mainly because the publishing world has changed a lot since then, but we’ll get into that in a minute.)

So I’m rewriting this older tale, and I’m looking forward to day I can share it again, but today, I wanted to talk about all of the little lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. I was a terrible writer, and I probably still am

Seriously. I hope I look back when I’m 59 on what I’m writing now with the same amount of horror. That means I’ve grown. That means I’m still learning, and changing, and morphing into what the new art demands.

2. I needed help. Lots of help. Professional help.

By this, I mean editors. Yes, I’m talking about you, editors. You are lovely. I’m practically preparing my altar right now. If only I had known you existed back then… Now, before you judge me for not having one, 2007 was a very different time in publishing (and I was 16.) Kindle had just been released, but it was brand new. There were no supporters online or fellow indie writers just waiting to speak with you in chatrooms. I don’t even think Wattpad was around yet. (Okay. I just looked it up. It launched in November of 2006 – but I already had November Snow written by then, and I definitely didn’t join Wattpad until 2010.) But the Indie world hadn’t started marching proudly yet. That goes for cover artists, too. You may have seen the weird cover I had. That’s because affordable cover artists – like editors – didn’t exist in easy-to-reach places, and I was 15 when the publisher wanted a cover. I didn’t exactly have the ability to network or pay a large sum of money or drive around town to find a photographer. So my older brother drew my vision on a napkin. What I TRULY wanted actually looks a lot like the designed covers of The Mortal Instruments series. (which is probably why I refused to read the series for such a long time. That was my cover, dammit.) Speaking of which, if you know a cover artist you think could design something wicked for November Snow, please – suggest away. I’m looking right now.

Burning city? Check. Orange on purple? Check. Giant people looming over everything. Check.
Burning city? Check. Orange on purple? Check. Giant people looming over everything. Check.

3. Despite all of that, things aren’t as bad as they seem

The storyline rocks, and the characters melt me and break me at the same time. They’re challenging, and the dark twists and turns don’t stop. People have enjoyed it despite the mistakes, and it’s more or less going to have the same plots, secrets, and betrayals. For all you original November Snow fans, I beg of you – please refrain from spoiling the story for new readers. (That is my only worry.) But if you must know, yes, whoever you’re thinking about still dies. Yes, them, too.

4. And it’s getting better

Some characters have actually formed MORE than before, and I’m only on November 4. (For those of you who don’t know, November Snow literally takes place over one month, and yes, it’s November.) While the original beginning was rather forced, this new beginning builds up the world of Vendona with honesty (and brutality) that I was unable to show when I first wrote it. The characters aren’t as cheesy, and the extra fluff has been trimmed into a fashionable haircut (who needs speaking tags anyway?) Physical descriptions have been shifted for the better, and the scenes connect in a cleaner, more concise way. Many names have been changed as well, but the main characters will remain largely the same. (Ex. Caitlin to Catelyn, Michelle to Michele, but Drew is now Floyd. I’ll announce more on this later.)

5. I started off second-guessing, and now, I’m really happy

I wasn’t sure why November Snow has been haunting me for all of these years, but I’ve figured it out a few weeks ago when I wrote My 11-Year-Old Self was a Better Writer. I am meant to write darker stories. I know this about myself. I write darker fiction. I enjoy it. I find myself in it, and that’s where my creativity belongs. Returning to November Snow is allowing myself to find that passion again, but – most of all – it’s helping me fully embrace it.

Just the other day, I received an email from a reviewer of Take Me Tomorrow. She talked about how much darker it is from the trilogy and how she is definitely looking forward to my future works. On Twitter, two readers translated November Snow into Spanish, and an old friend from my high school messaged me when they heard that I was rewriting it. They couldn’t wait. They’ve been waiting for a rewrite ever since I returned to my novelist ways. Another longtime fan offered to beta read it since they know the story so well. (They wanted to make sure I didn’t forget anything.) And a graphic designer already offered to help design a cover, even if I choose to use someone else.

These moments bring tears to my eyes.They do.

I won’t lie. I’m nervous. I’m terribly, sickeningly nervous. When I wrote a controversial scene the other night, I could barely get through it, but I did, and afterward, I felt like my readers accomplished it with their encouragement. (And my typing helped a little bit.) But I ultimately hope to learn more lessons along the way, so I can share them, and we can discuss them as we go. Have you ever learned anything about rewriting? Any advice? Warnings?


25 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned Rewriting a Seven-Year-Old Novel

  1. Just reading this is great. I can relate, as I have gone through a very similar process – taking a book I wrote when I was 16, self-publishing it and putting it out, only to yank it ‘from shelves’ a few years later after I was mortified at my lack of editing, lack of professional cover art, and lack of even minute formatting. I have turned it into a series now, and I don’t regret going back and giving it a few glances over (and a few makeovers, my first 2 covers were ‘designed’ by friends of mine. At the time they were awesome, and to this day I still think they are awesome, because they’re proof my work inspired something. But I managed to find a professional artist who was more in line with my vision). My print books are still self-published, while my ebooks are in the process of being published by a small time publisher. I’ve enjoyed working through the challenges that re-writing / redesigning can bring. If you’re looking for an artist, I’d suggest going to DeviantArt and seeing who is offering themselves out for commission. There are so many talented people there in an affordable price range (my artist, because it is a series, did mine for $40 USD per cover. Unfortunately, she’s not the style of art you are searching for, but if I run across anyone who is I will certainly link you to them!)

    I cannot wait to read your finished product!

    1. I am so glad you shared your story! It helps to know how many fellow artists have gone through the same struggles and moments. Thank you. Your story of success after such struggles is truly encouraging.

  2. I just finished rewriting one of my old novels, one I never published but always meant to. It’s amazing the growth that happens in several years’ time. I am a better writer now than I was back then. And 10 years from now, I plan on being a much better writer than I am now! But the thing I love about going through this old novel is coming across the tiny treasures – the words and scenes I pulled together without overthinking it, when naivety was my greatest asset in my writing. There were several nuggets I unearthed that I never would have written now – and I loved them! I almost feel like I’m co-authoring this book, the old me and the new me working together to create something magical. 🙂

    I love how your fans are backing you up in this project! And this new-old project of yours sounds amazing!

    1. That is so true! I wrote about that “coauthor” feeling – where you are discussing topics with your past self (and how surreal it is.) Thank you for sharing your story with everyone. 😀 And I truly appreciate your encouragement as well.

  3. I’m looking over my old books now and know exactly how you feel. I’ve learned so many ways to improve my writing that the old stuff feels like someone else wrote it. So I focus on the emotional meat and the things that did carry over. I’m guessing every author looks at their older stuff and finds flaws.

    1. Oh, yeah! I think it’s a good sign to see flaws (as long as we don’t obsess over them.) It’s a sign of growth. I’m not bothered by the flaws I see. I’m just glad I can see them now. :]

  4. Rewriting is definitely the path to opening one’s eyes! Some of what I’ve learned is stuff you’ve covered — editors are godsends and definitely worth the money. Other stuff I thought I could get away with and now realize I can’t: huge parts of the story will change in a lot of ways, but as long as the core problem is strong, then the story you want to write won’t go anywhere.

    I’ve also learned something from Kristen Lamb. (If you haven’t heard of her, please look her up sometime. She’s wildly helpful for understanding not only how to write better books, but also for making the most of social media. She might have some tips you haven’t seen yet, or she might just reaffirm what you’re already doing!) Her argument is to start your story development by making the antagonist up first (as opposed to starting with a protagonist who has XYZ problems that s/he needs to tackle in ABC amount of time). That way, you have a problem already in place and your job is then to make a foil for that antagonist. This trick also helps you to see just how dire the stakes are going to become later in the book and how much the protagonist needs to be pushed.

    (Side note: I didn’t know this when I first started writing or revising. I’m on my seventh draft of my book. I’m rewriting and adding so much more because of this. We’ll see if it comes to fruition!)

    Her last tip is to pair the protagonist with someone of a completely opposite trait. So if you have a control freak protagonist, pair them with someone who has short term memory loss and just dives into things willy-nilly. This, she argues, will help develop a character arc for the protagonist, forcing them to change by the end of the book from a control freak to someone who’s learned (through experience with a non-control freak) to relax more often and that it’s easier to manage when everything isn’t held so tightly.

    Those are just a few things I’ve learned these past few days regarding revision — and even starting books. Maybe they could help you?

    1. Interesting writing tips! I don’t think they’ll work with November Snow since I’m keeping the original plot and characters (it’s just the prose and the editing I need changed) but I truly enjoyed the tips. I will definitely take a note and try these out with future works. I might even talk about them on here one day ;]
      Thank you for reading and commenting,

  5. “1. I was a terrible writer, and I probably still am” – Lol. Give yourself a break. I picked up a novel I wrote the summer I finished secondary school and had to laugh as I scrolled through. I actually shopped that book around to literary agents all those years ago and wondered why they weren’t requesting the full manuscript! Time and experience helped me improve (I hope).
    Best of luck with finishing November Snow.

  6. As an artist, you will always want to recreate your work and tweak it endlessly. Trust yourself, it is your baby.

  7. I have an English artist who is designing my first book cover, and she has done covers, mainly for Regency romances, but I’m pure fantasy with interesting animal/human creatures. Her name is Sarah J Waldock and if you come to my page, I can give you her email.

  8. You can also check her out on Pinterest where she shows some covers she’s made for others as well as her general artwork. She says I can give you her email, and if you’re real nice she can cut you a deal around $100 for a full cover. she’s sjwaldock@yahoo.co.uk

  9. I haven’t finished anything yet to rewrite, but I am sure anything that has ever been written could be reworked forever. Thanks for sharing your experience. It shows how writers do continue to grow.

  10. I remember going through my first book the first time all the way through. I wrote it when I was fifteen (I’m 18 now). It was… awful. Okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it really felt like my insides were being ripped out the more I read it. That was only a three year difference. I can’t even imagine going back and reading things I wrote when I was 11. Talk about scary.

  11. When you were a child you spoke as a child, what’s new about that? What’s different about it is that you felt compelled to write down your words for posterity.

    Dr. Johnson once said “I never desire to speak with a man who has written more than he has read.” That was true in the 18th century and it remains true today. John Lennon once said “You know that what you eat you are,” and if he had written of writers he would have said “You know that what you read you are.”

    Rewriting your old stuff takes genuine courage. I had a journalism prof once who likened self-edit to killing her children with a hatchet. That’s how much self-edit hurts and that’s why it takes courage to do it. But if you persevere you will grow in the craft, and that’s as much as any truly serious writer tries to do.

    You want to become a great writer, you’ve signed up for a lifetime of study and hard, lonely work. The money comes to those whose education is never finished.

    Solomon sed.

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