I have about a hundred pages of a novel I wrote in high school, I like the concept behind the writing but I'm finding it extremely difficult to go back and read/edit it again. I last edited the document in 2007.

The work received lots of praise at the time but, as I look back and read it myself, it's embarrassing. At the same time I'm attached and want to finish it. I'm concerned with how much work editing it all would be and that makes me afraid I will never finish it.

I'm thinking of three ways of handling this:

  • Throw the old copy in the trash and completely rewrite it. I hesitate to do this because the amount of work was already intimidating; if I do this I think I might abandon the project.
  • Read and edit page by page, fixing all the little things I don't like. This feels logical but I don't know if it's the best approach.
  • Read the whole thing over once like a new reader before I start considering edits.
  • 4
    It might feel like a shame to throw away your work, which is mere typing. I would not even read it but rather just put it immediately in the attic to save and show to your kids. Your world view is no longer that of an adolescent; use your experience since then to write it from scratch the way you want to write it now, the way it deserves to be written. Jan 28, 2012 at 15:38
  • @PeteWilson You should've submitted that as the answer. Best one. Spot on!
    – raddevus
    Nov 22, 2015 at 0:26

6 Answers 6


There are three aspects to consider:

  • The plot
  • The characters
  • The writing

If you want to know if the project is worth pursuing at all, read the entire thing from scratch. Furthermore, read it and try to pretend you aren't the author. Now:

  • Do you like it? Do you like the premise? When you're done, do you want to know what happens next?
  • Do you like the characters? Do you care for the people you've been reading about? Do you understand them? Do they feel real?
  • Do you like how it's written? For the most part, does the prose work?

If you enjoyed the story as a story, and not as your story, then it's worth fixing.

If you hate the construction (the writing), break it back down into an outline, save the few sparkling sentences, throw it out, and start over. Yes, it will be a lot of work. If writing were easy, people would take up poetry for a summer job instead of flipping burgers at McDonald's.

If you don't like the plot, write up detailed studies of your characters and find something else for them to do. Throw out this book and write a different one.

If you don't like the characters, figure out what the original purpose of the story was and tell it some other way.


Definitely the third one. Reading the whole thing will help you decide between 1 and 2.

The decision between rewriting the whole thing from scratch and editing the latest draft depends both on how good the piece is, and how much your writing has improved since you last touched it. If you've improved a lot, it might be easier to rewrite it than to edit it.


Most authors writing a novella/novel length piece don't typically just do repetitive straight reads. When working on large pieces I like to color-code my text for easier editing. When I'm working from a simple formula I'll give the protagonist a color, the antagonist a color and the relationship character a color. You can color large portions of description/dialog/action. For me color-coding is my favorite editing tool. It makes editing large works much more reasonable and it makes it much easier to edit works you've set aside for a while.

There's no right number of revisions, but most well known authors I've listened to on the topic would say 5-10 revisions is standard for a novel. Breaking my editing passes into sub-categories makes me vastly more effective and helps keep my attention on what I wrote, and not on what I remember having written.

  • 1
    My +1 went to Lauren, but I felt like my point was an appropriate addendum to the other answers. Jan 25, 2012 at 2:06
  • 1
    Your color-coding sounds fascinating. Can you explain that a bit more? How do you get into the rhythm of the text with the colors splashed everywhere? And what is "the relationship character," the love interest? Jan 25, 2012 at 11:38
  • 1
    If I'm working on paper I use a 2-inch margin all around my text and one of the sides is only for tagging text blocks for editing. The colors and tags do take you out of the text a bit, but not any more than the bouncing required to read through a specific character's arc individually (IMO)... As I mentioned in the comment, one of the things I'm trying to accomplish in a re-read, is finding the discrepancies between details that I thought I wrote and what's really there on the page (the larger the world I'm building the worse this problem can be). I'll revisit the RC in another question... Jan 25, 2012 at 13:41

I've had the exact same problem.

What I ended up doing was a mixture of options 1 and 2.

For the most part, I'd rewrite the story paragraph by paragraph, writing the new one beside the old paragraph, then deleting the old one. Basically, what needed editing was edited, and what needed rewriting was rewritten.

The advantage of this method?

-It felt like I was merely editing (because it was done in small chunks, and I was simply making changes within the existing manuscript instead of facing a blank page) when in fact I was rewriting.

Also, I didn't have to actually rewrite any part where simple editing would suffice, thus sparing unnecessary work.

Good luck!


It's good that you're embarrassed by it, that scrutiny will help you. I'm in a similar situation with a novel I wrote but I haven't let it gather enough dust to view it with fresh eyes...

I would suggest you open it up and read through the whole thing with a red marker pen, tear it apart like a college proffessor- with the cynicism of a publisher. Reflect on your self-criticism for a while and then undergo a massive rewrite; using your old draft as a guide (keeping whatever you like and what you feel works and trashing the rest)

Good luck my man


Don't throw it away, re-read it. If you don't like it that much when you re-read it, stow it away for a couple of years. During this time you might try taking the concept and re-writing it with a different viewpoint character and a fresh setting. That will give you another manuscript to work with down the road. It may end up being the novel you want it to be. Or it may not. Or it may need to be stowed away for a number of years before re-reading. Write a couple of novels between your current reading of the first novel you wrote, and the next reading. So: say it's now 2017 and you've written another 120,000 words between when you read your first novel and stowed it away. NOW re-read it. You'll be a different person and able to see it with new eyes. I recently re-read a novel I wrote in 2007. I'd re-read it a couple of times in the intervening years and I always thought there was something there but I couldn't quite see what was crap and what was worth keeping.And a lot of it felt too confessional. I read it again with a friend a few months ago (it's 2015 now), and we workshopped it, and now I'm very clear that there's a LOT in it worth keeping, and I have an idea for an entirely different story I'm writing around it (expanding it from 50,000 to 90,000-100,000 words or so). The context I'm adding makes the previous writing even more interesting than it was before. So keep in mind: lots of writing improves over time, and even if it seems awful to you when you read it at 5 years, another 5 could make all the difference in terms of making it clear whether it's usable or not. And in the meantime: write. Write, write, write, write, write.

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