People often ask me how many times I re-wrote my first novel, Ultra. Trust me when I say, YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW.
I wrote the first version waaaaaay back, in the summer of 2008. It was 20,000 words long, and it swallowed two months of my life. Back then, it was titled “Quinn and the 100 Mile Race.”
I finished the second draft a month later. By Christmas I’d rewritten it a third time, and then I sent it out.
I sent it to an agent and also a publisher. The publisher said some nice things about it. She said the narration was lovely and warm; perhaps too lovely and warm. She explained that the warm tone made it hard to believe that the central character was living on top of a calamity. Which was why she was going to take a pass.
The agent didn’t reply.
I wasn’t too upset about it. I’ve written lots of stuff over the years that never got published. That’s the writer’s life. I stuffed the manuscript in a drawer and forgot about it.
Two years later, I picked it up again. I re-wrote it for…let’s see…the fourth time.
After 5 months of work, I pitched it 50 agents. 49 of them said, “Thanks but no thanks.”
The fiftieth agent (the brilliant Scott Waxman who represents some of the finest sports writers, including the legendary John L. Parker) called me on the phone. When I saw the 212 area code on the display, I knew something was up. Scott told me that he liked my story. He said, however, that he wasn’t quite ready to offer representation just yet. There were a few things I ought to think about – if, that is, I was “willing to re-write the manuscript.”
I thought about the improvements that Scott suggested. I thought about them for all of ten seconds.
Once again, I started re-writing. When I finished that re-write I did another.
And then another.
And then another.
After six months of re-writing, Scott Waxman accepted my novel. I received an “Offer to Represent” in the mail.
Cue the champagne corks! Cue the s’mores!
A couple of months later, the novel sold to Scholastic Canada.
MORE champagne! MORE s’mores!
In the year or so since I signed with Scholastic, I’ve done three more rewrites. The first took 3 months, the second took one month, the third took a week.
That makes eleven re-writes in all.
I know that sounds like a lot of work, but listen: with every single re-write the book got better!
Writing a book, and running 100 miles, are similar in two distinct ways.
(1) Both involve a TON of pain.
and (2) The finish line is incredibly sweet.