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I started a book about 2 years ago, got about halfway through, and then got sidetracked. I know this is a typically bad habit of novelists... Fortunately, the book idea that distracted me made it to the finish line.

Now, I want to return to the first book, but the energy of the book I carried around in my head has disappeared. I have to get to know the characters all over again. I do want to write this story, and I've had a lot of cool ideas over the last 18 months I want to incorporate. Also, I think I'm a better writer now than two years ago.

So my question is, should I start over at page 1 and rewrite the story using my first draft perhaps as a guide but basically rewrite everything, or should I open my chapter files and edit them as needed knowing there will be some massive makeovers?

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I think you should fathom your own feelings about this.

For me, the answer would depend on how I felt what I had written before and what didn't work for me then. If that first attempts was inherently flawed, I would not reread it (so as not to get pulled into that frame of mind again) and write everything anew from what I have in my head. In the meantime that story will have developed in your mind, and you want to write that new form, not be hampered by the old one. If on the other hand you still feel what you did then was great, then rewrite and expand. But that will be difficult. From my own experience, rewriting is the most difficult thing in writing at all, because you will have to make things work that didn't work.

So how do you feel about your old story? Follow your gut.

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Rewrite it. If you feel you're a better writer now, two years later, you'll waste too much time editing and fiddling around trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Don't be afraid to toss something in the trash and retry the idea with a new perspective and voice.

I was in a similar situation with an old completed novel and decided to just "fix" what already existed. Ended up cutting half the book and it changed so much I might as well have rewritten it.

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I'm sensing two structural problems. So let's tackle those first.

For any story you work on, you should have:

  • An outline of the story.

    In your outline, you should know, chapter by chapter, what is going on. This can be as detailed or as vague as you want, but to your eyes it should be a play-by-play.

  • Character bios.

    Every character that appears (though more detailed for protagonists and somewhat less for main supporting characters) should be described. Their personality (psychology), their look (biology), their flaws, and their strengths. Everything should be described, even if it's as simple as (looks like 'Neo' from the Matrix).

  • A reference bible!

    Building on the previous point, you should have some kind of documentation describing everything in your book. From the scene locations, to the items being used. This can be as vague as "Scene location: rural America", to as detailed as "Three mahogany trees lined up in the back yard, interspersed with herbs and vegetable gardens". The more fantastical the setting (ie. Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or even historically accurate) the more accurate you need to be with your details. So if you describe or refer to something in your book, you need to get the details right every time.

Now, having said that. I would have to agree with the other answer(er)s, mostly. If you feel you've improved as a writer, then rewriting might make more sense. If you feel the story itself can improve with a rewrite, then this shouldn't be a discussion.

Don't toss the old, though! Keep it as reference material.

  • Yes, my outline is pretty solid. That's why I'm struggling, because in theory I could maintain a smooth flow without a complete rewrite... – Stu W Jan 29 '17 at 14:48
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    @StuW you know your work best. If you can handle the rewrite, then go that route. Just don't do it for sentimental reasons. With my current manuscript, I've redone the entire thing at least three times by now. And trust me, the manuscript is better for it. – Fayth85 Jan 30 '17 at 1:01
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I wouldn't rewrite it if you don't have to. Perhaps you could start by reading your existing draft and making notes, perhaps in the form of an outline, as you go along. If you didn't leave yourself an outline of the second half before you set it aside, then it might be helpful to make an outline before digging in to writing the second half.

You might even want to experiment with leaving a gap of time between the first half and the second half. It could be rather fun.

Of course, if you find that a rewrite is necessary, that's okay too. But at this stage it might be helpful to crank out some sort of draft of the second half before getting too involved in making improvements to the first half.

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