Is it a good idea to sell a book to a publisher, then extensively re-write it? The marketer in me says, “No.” (Also, “Put pop-up ads on NationStates!”) But that’s pretty much what I’ve done with Company. At first I was just going to do a little tweaking: snip a sub-plot here, pat down a character foible there, that kind of thing. But the more I re-wrote, the more I saw that needed re-writing. Then, before I knew it, I had a new second half to the book.
(Of course, when I say, “before I knew it,” I’m using artistic license. No-one actually ends up with a novel “before they knew it.” I’m always seeing this in movies: someone decides to write a novel and two weeks later they’re typing THE END into a laptop at Starbucks and exhaling in satisfaction. Two weeks! I can’t get a sentence right in two weeks. Also, I hate people who write novels at Starbucks. And people who exhale in satisfaction in public; them too. So you can see why this annoys me.)
This is something of an addiction of mine; I’m always throwing out the last half of novels and trying again. I never intend it; I just get obsessed with improving things. This is not necessarily a bad thing, if you ignore the fact that I’m spending enormous chunks of time writing bits of novels only to cut them later (which I try to). But now I’ve done it to a book a publisher has already bought, and, presumably, thought was pretty good.
So I’ve confessed to Bill, my editor. As I e-mailed in the new draft, I put the question to him: am I a hard-working, committed author, or just some kind of idiot? He replied:
It depends on what you’ve done. If it’s turned into a searing portrait of the artistic struggles of male ballet dancers, I shall not be pleased.
He’s reading the draft now. There are no ballet dancers. But I’ll have to wait and see what he thinks.