There might be something good in all the dreck

Yesterday on my personal blog, I wrote about resurrecting an old project and by old, I mean old. I think the last time I looked at this was about 10 years ago. I wrote it back at a time when I was reading a lot of fantasy, both epic and high fantasy. In the intervening time, my reading has changed and I don’t read nearly as much of those sub-genres as I once did. So, when I pulled this particular project out of the deep dark recesses that exist under my bed, I did so with a great deal of trepidation. Still, what could it hurt — other than my ego — to look at it and see if there was anything worth trying to save? After all, I was stuck when it came to my current projects. I needed to do something until I got Mac Santos’ voice back so I could finish Nocturnal Challenge.

Right?

What I am finding both scares and reassures me. But it also makes me want to kick myself. More on that in a bit.

What scares me about the project — currently being called Sword of Arelion — is how much work the piece actually needs. The story is there. Sure, it needs tweaking and tightening but there is a story there. But the craft part of it needs a lot of work. I don’t want my readers to feel like they are watching a ping pong match because I jumped heads so much and without warning. It is clear that I did try to work on curing the POV changes, however. So that is good — I think. But the problems are bad enough that I have to completely rewrite the book. A simple markup and input won’t do it. Fortunately, I figured that out by the end of the very first page.

Something else that scares me about the novel is that I am getting pulled into it. Maybe it is because I’ve been fighting to work on Challenge and it just hasn’t been happening. Maybe it is because this is so very different from what I’ve been writing and my creative batteries needed something completely different (cue the Monty Python theme, please) to get going again. I’m not sure what the answer is but I have the very sick feeling that this novel is going to morph, like so many of my other projects, into a multi-book arc and — yes, I’m going to whine here — I don’t want another series right now!

The project also reassures me. It is good to see that my craft has progressed over the years. That is especially so because when I was younger, I had tried going the traditional route. Looking back now and remembering what I tried peddling to agents and editors, I wasn’t anywhere near ready for prime time.  But, like so many others, I took the rejections to heart and, coupled with a few other factors I won’t go into here, decided that publishing wasn’t for me. I would write because I had to but it would be for my own entertainment and sanity. After all, once I was done with something and decided I no longer wanted to work on it, I could have a bonfire and I really, really like bonfires.   😉

Of course, Fate is a fickle bitch and she had other plans for me. She brought Sarah into my life and Sarah weaseled it out of me the I enjoyed writing. Well, Sarah being Sarah, she managed to convince me to send her something. Then she put on her pointy toed boots and applied them to my backside until I started taking my writing seriously. She still, on occasion, applies those metaphorical boots to remind me not to sit back and rest on my laurels, real or imagined.

And this is where I get to how looking at SoA and want to kick myself. As I said earlier, there is a story there. More, if I am honest with myself — and if I listen to Cedar and Sanford — what I have of SoA right now is as good, if not better, than much of what is published right now, both traditionally and indie. Yes, there are problems but they can be fixed. That’s not the issue. The issue is that I didn’t believe enough in myself to keep trying and I put my own growth as a writer on hold as a result. Would I have managed to actually find an agent or publisher back then? Probably not. But I would have kept working at my craft, something I really didn’t do until Sarah — and then Dave and a few others — came into my life and started giving me the encouragement and often the push I needed to get off my butt and actually start taking it seriously.

So here is my challenge to you. Go find one of your earlier works — don’t go looking at stuff you wrote in elementary or middle school. Believe me, you will get a laugh. I do. But most of us weren’t really “writers” back then. Pull it out and look at it with a critical and dispassionate eye. It is going to be easy for you to find the problems with the manuscript. But now look at it and find the good points. What did you do right, or almost right, even if it was more instinct or dumb luck that caused you to? Now think and think hard. Is this something you can resurrect into a new project? If not, why? Also, if you don’t think you can, what about the project can you file away for use in future works?

Believe it or not, there will be a gem in some of those older works. It might not be the entire piece that is salvageable but there will be something. The key is to first find it. Then you have to figure out why and how you can use it.

Now go forth and find those hidden gems and let us know about them. As for SoA, you can find the first snippet here. A second snippet will be going live later today — hopefully.

33 Comments

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33 responses to “There might be something good in all the dreck

  1. I think I’ll leave my hidden gems hidden! Although I wound up publishing one, which I regret by fits and starts.

  2. I pulled out an old one, for the amusement of my beta readers, a few weeks ago. :: sigh :: My first rejection from Baen. Yep. Toni has seen this travesty. I had to do a fast edit before even my betas were allowed to read it, it was so . . . off. Fortunately it did _not_ grab me and demand more.

    • So what was wrong with it and what can you take from it for use elsewhere? Inquiring minds want to know.

      • A romance that gave me major icks!!!!!! And the tone was off, the MC too cheerful as she coped with a horrible situation.

        It was, however, a sign that I really can do nasty bloody scenes, bad things to nice characters, kill named sympathetic characters, and write a realistic female heroine. That is to say, she could do some kicking-of-ass but the hulking sidekick or the undercover cop handled the really impossible fight scenes.

        • And I’m sure to need a good spaceship hijacking somewhere down the road. I dunno about the Miss Outer Space Contest, though. It might be best left deep, deep under the bed.

  3. I did this recently. Ow. Ick. I didn’t . . . yup, I did. Polish, trim, excise, bury, replace, tweak, subdivide, and hey, OK, the bones and most of the meat was sound. Except for the chunks that got left out. And that one scene . . . um yeah, it and the cat pan both needed to be dumped. Amazing what a difference seven years and almost a million words or so makes.

  4. Martin L. Shoemaker

    A long lost friend recently contacted me. He still has a story I wrote in 6th grade.

    It’s beyond unsalvageable. It shall remain hidden. Though if I ever develop enough of a name and reputation, I might hold a charity auction. The winning bidder gets to do a dramatic reading of the story, live before an audience, while I have to sit there and cringe.

    • Laura M

      Did you actually re-read it?

      • Martin L. Shoemaker

        *cringe* yes. It wasn’t long. (I’ll give sixth-grade me that much credit: HE could write short. I can’t!) It was an idea heavily influenced by Star Trek (“Who Mourns for Adonais?”), it has what can barely be called a plot, and it has a “twist” ending that no one ever understood. Now I can’t understand it, either.

        On the other hand, I appear to have unintentionally invented optical storage back in 1974…

  5. Here’s the chorus to a song I wrote at age 10:
    “What a horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible way to die;
    They tried to keep on living but they landed in the sky!”

    ANYTHING you write is better than that. “‘Ha ha,’ laughed the bunnies” is better than that.
    Heck, write it. Who knows? You might become the Mark Twain of the 21st century, and entire lit departments may wage war over the meaning of the progression of your work.

    • Actually, I like that chorus. It scans and rhymes quite solidly.

      It’d be a great humor song chorus for a song about people on a light gravity moon or asteroid, who jumped high enough that they kept orbiting. You could throw in a bunch of humorous accidents that kept it going and thwarted their every attempt to save themselves.

      A great way to get rid of villains, too. All their villainous tools and plans could be part of the humorous accidents.

      • Feel free to filk it until is screams. In the original song, the characters died “Going backwards doing 90, the Jag rolled off the cliff, now listen to the rotten end of Charlie, Joe, and Biff – AAAAAAUUUGGHHHH!”

        • Jim McCoy

          I like this. It wouldn’t work for an overly serious audience, but I LOL’ed at that.

          • So far, I am hearing nothing but good bits. 🙂

            If you’re trying to do early Sixties car song jokes, it is difficult to go wrong. Pacing and presentation of the jokes are almost more important than the jokes themselves.

            But the basic concept is solid. You just have to convince yourself that you did it that way on purpose as an adult, as opposed to being embarrassed for writing it as a kid who didn’t know better.

            The truth about songs is that it’s routine, totally routine, for songwriters to pull out their old stuff and see years later what revisions are needed. I can’t even tell you how many songs I just put away for a year until I could see what the third verse should be.

            • Okay, how about The Motorcycle Whiteboy Song?
              I’m the Motorcycle Whiteboy
              I ride it all night long;
              Yeah I’m the Motorcycle Whiteboy
              I ride it all night long;
              And when I ride my motorcycle
              I sing the Motorcycle song.

              Well, you get yer Motorcycle,
              You be a Whiteboy too.
              Yeah you get yer Motorcycle,
              You be a Whiteboy too.
              But you won’t be one like me;
              No, you’ll be one like you.

              • Holly

                Look up ‘Dumb ways to die.” You might have a career in public safety advertising jingles you never suspected. (And if you love your children, DO NOT let your grandkids hear it. Once is all it takes.)

    • I dunno, the chorus sounds like it could come out of an amusing comedy of errors musical, and I giggled reading it.

  6. Just finished read review of Henry Vogel’s yet unpublished “Scout’s Duty,” final book in the Scout trilogy. Review is on my blog, and will copy to Amazon when it’s published. I’m on Chapter 17 in my re-read of “A Few Good Men;” I’m re-reading it so the review will be fresher. I’ve got the next three reads planned, but I don’t think I will tell you yet; a redneck is entitled to his little secrets, you know!

    • Pat, if you want an advance copy of Dragon Noir, let me know?

      • You betcha! I haven’t read Trickster Noir, but I LOVED Pixie Noir!
        Sorry for the exclamation points. I just get all over shivery when somebody offers me reading material.

        • Pat, send me an email at cedarlila at gmail dot com (reformatted to address format) and I will send you both books. Keeping in mind that you’re free to review Dragon Noir when it comes out, but you’re getting an unedited version! And I really appreciate what you do for us, you know.

    • Pat Patterson

      Justfinishefd A Few Good Men. Will write raw review tomorrow.
      Good night Warriors and Dragons, Princesses and Shape Snifters.
      It is late and I require rest.
      So, goodnight all

      • See that post above? That’s what you get when you type on a tablet with fat fingers. I tried to type ‘goodnight’ about five times before it let me.
        Anyway, “A Few Good Men” review is now up on Amazon and my blog. Starting something by thewriterinblack now.

  7. Laura M

    My current WIP is a re-do of something I wrote over 20 years ago. I didn’t even look at it. I don’t know where it is, and nor do I want to. I remembered the idea and a couple Harrowing Events. What revived my interest was that I was sitting in a very pretty courtyard last fall and thinking it was like a castle courtyard, and suddenly I had the title to the thing I never finished decades ago. The title was so darn perfect that this ancient story took me over and got me all into it despite the huge amount of time since I’d even thought about it. I wrote it for NaNo. It was all very strange.

  8. Angus Trim

    I don’t see the problem in redeveloping or rewriting old stuff. Sometime it works wonders.

    Granted, I haven’t published my novels yet, but after my work with the Mongoliad writing group, I dug out something that was originally intended as a short story. I felt inclined to rebuild it.

    I didn’t really decide how to approach, I just did. I started the story earlier than the shortie, and it just took off. It started as a story of a veteran who was having issues blending in again once in the civilian world. The world being several hundred years in the future after our civilization had fallen to a natural disaster.

    The story grew to 99k words. One of the original readers of it gave me some pretty heavy criticism, then suggested that I take some of the positive things, and the backstory, and develop that.

    That shortie has grown to a five novel series, and is book five {“Bodyguard Ask Not”}. It does not resemble the short story that has spawned the series anymore.

  9. Timid1

    After a comment from Sarah about pulling up prose she’d written while feeling poorly and noticing all the things wrong with it, I pulled up one of my poor efforts and saw the problems. That was a glimmer of hope. I’d basically given up, not from the rejections, but from the conviction I was not improving as a writer. Seeing the problems means that, incredible as it may seem, I’ve learned a little something.

    Can I make it salable? Maybe not. But I can make it better than it is now, and at this point that is what counts.

  10. (cue the Monty Python theme, please)

    Are you sure you want this?

    http://youtu.be/FGK8IC-bGnU Short and explosive

    http://youtu.be/K2P86C-1x3o A bit fishy, if you ask me.

    Or you could subscribe to the Monty Python channel

    https://www.youtube.com/user/MontyPython

    (Three URLs? I’ll bet I get moderated! Almost as bad as a man with three buttocks 🙂

  11. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    So, when I pulled this particular project out of the deep dark recesses that exist under my bed, I did so with a great deal of trepidation.

    Glad the monster under the bed didn’t get it (that was my first Horror story of sorts, never written down because it was told to my now 23 year old daughter twenty years ago to help her sleep – I put The Monster under her bed to protect her from a monster she was convinced was in her closet – Damned if I know how it got into the closet, my wife and I never did figure that out).

    As to old stuff…

    I find myself constantly recycling old plots, characters, and settings into new stories. Often those bits and pieces have gained richness from the years of marinating in what passes for my brain. Several of the characters have even changed sides…