“I’m writing a story I really, really loved when I wrote the first draft. But now I’ve let so many people influence how I write it that it isn’t mine anymore. All the shine has gone off it. (This has actually happened to two books, but one I know how to fix.) I want the original back. The story I was excited about, the one that entertained me, but I’m whenever I think of looking at it again I get
this yuck feeling in my stomach and I end up playing scrabble instead.
Do you have a method for reclaiming a story that you might have over edited or changed in ways that killed it for you?”
See, this is why I’m never going to teach any class that has me responding to student work ever again. ARGH. My feedback is toxic.
So, how to bring a book back from the over-written dead:
1. Cut 90% of it. Find the few pieces that are left of the original dream and slash everything else. Be savage.
2. Put the computer away, climb into bed and pull the covers over your head and daydream about the story. Forget structure and character arc and all the craft stuff, and just listen to the characters talk to you in the dark. Fantasize new conversations, new actions, whether they belong in the story or not. Tell the Girls they can go anywhere they want, there are no boundaries. Don’t worry if the stuff you dream about is stupid or silly and embarrassing, just dream. Everything is possible. Keep doing that until you fall asleep.
3. When you wake up, write down anything you remember that you loved, even if it’s just one line, anything you’re sure is really the story.
4. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, the book you love will come crawling back out into the sunshine, reassured that you’re not going to stick pins in it anymore, and you can go back to writing it the way you usually write. Until then, give it darkness and warmth and freedom and unconditional love, cuddle it when it comes sidling up to you without grabbing it and hauling it into your lap, tell it how beautiful it is and how much you love writing it, feed it unconditional approval and excitement about its future.
And then stop letting people read your first drafts. Don’t show your work to anybody until you’re absolutely sure you know what your story is. Especially don’t show it to me.