On Starting All Over Again: 6 Learnings From a Failed Draft

Last month I finished writing 35K words of my first novel and I made the decision of starting all over again. I’m not just rewriting the story, I’m reconsidering the basic plot structure and genre.

6 learnings from a failed draft


A better plot

The decision to reconsider the basic plot of the story came after reading the book Save the Cat. This is an extraordinary book on screenwriting. It brought home the point that a story without a solid logline is not worth telling. If your premise is not strong enough, your plot will not be powerful enough to drive the audience along.

Looking back over my story I realized that as strong as I thought the premise was, it lacked a punch (or two). In other words, it lacked a sense of irony and anticipation.


A better genre choice

The decision to reconsider the genre of the story came after reading Write to Market. This is a great book by Chris Fox on writing to a specific (existing) audience. A story that intends to capture the audited attention needs to be written with the audience’s expectations in mind. Sounds simple, but few people actually follow this approach.

In my case, I knew my genre choice was not focused and could be better defined.


Learnings from a first draft

Do I think that writing my manuscript was a waste? I don’t. I wrote 35k words and I see that as training. The benefit of writing is not just the published work, but also the writing practice in itself.

In my first draft I learnt:

  1. Sometimes I’m most productive when I don’t think about writing and simply force myself to write.
  2. A habit is a writer’s best friend.
  3. The style of writing that feels more natural and enjoyable, is to plan a plot and write it in short sprints (here’s where my software engineering background comes up).
  4. A distracted mind is a difficult beast to tame.
  5. There is a lot to learn about writing. The more I learn the more I know I have to learn. There more I know the more I know I don’t know.
  6. My preferred techniques for writing are those closer to screenwriting. In screenwriting story trumps style and keeping the audience engaged is paramount.

I now have an initial wordcount. I wrote 35k in 111 days (69 active writing days). This is equal to 315 words per day (or 500 words per active day). A modest figure, I know, but that’s what beginnings look like.


What to look for

If you want to make sure your story stands in solid ground, answer these two questions:

  • Does the story have a strong premise with irony, punch and clear genre?
  • Is the story written the audience in mind instead of the writer?

I hope you won’t feel the need to rewrite your manuscript but if you do, remember that it was not a lost effort.

What do you think? Do you need to reconsider your story in progress?

4 comments on “On Starting All Over Again: 6 Learnings From a Failed Draft

  1. Allan Martin on

    Hi Max, this is very interesting, and I like your six points. I guess most writers start off by writing for themselves. I think that’s OK because you have to be satisfied in yourself that what you’re writing is good (in whatever way you define that), and that makes the enterprise worthwhile at the basic level. Writing for a reader – that’s a very good point. I read somewhere that you write the first draft for yourself, and the second for your readers. Writing for the market – that’s trickier – you can end up writing lowest-common-denominator clones of what’s already there. You really have to find your voice, before you can decide which market you’re going for. But then, if you want to get published, you’d have to be aware of what’s being read in that genre. That’s why Point no. 7 should be “I keep on reading!” Good luck, Allan

    • Max Zsol on

      Hi Allan, you make very good points. If you don’t write for yourself, you won’t be engaged with your writing enough to stick to it. Regarding writing for an audience. I think it’s necessary to learn the rules before breaking them, but I 100% agree on the risks of writing uninventive clones of what’s already been written. I like your point #7. I definitely need to keep on reading and learning.
      Thanks for your comment!

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