November’s over. NaNoWriMo’s over for another year. You’ve got a manuscript, a solid body of work.
First off, take a bow. Didn’t finish? That doesn’t matter. More on that soon. What counts is you got down and wrote something. A lot of people in the world don’t write anything. At all. But what now?
Just over a decade ago I wrote a one-volume general history of New Zealand (488 pages/120,000 words). The book sold well, but has long gone out of print. Last year I had opportunity to re-publish. Second edition time. The book had to be re-created – the old plates and files are gone – and that created an opportunity to re-work the content.
Some authors don’t do this; they’ll let an old book re-appear with minimal change, insisting that it has ‘stood the test of time’. Yes, sometimes books do stand up. But not often when it comes to non-fiction, and I had good reasons for wanting to revise this particular one. The first edition wasn’t wrong, but 11-12 years is a fair period in the career of a writer. Ideas change. So does writing style. More particularly, it is also a long time in terms of what we know about New Zealand’s pre-history, meaning the first chapter had to be re-written. I also have a pet hatred of history books that ‘update’ the last chapter by adding a hasty list of events. That, to me, is only the first step; history is really about what events mean. Often those trends aren’t evident when events occur, or soon afterwards. So the last chapter, 1985 to ‘the present’, had to be re-written to accommodate meanings evident from the vantage of 2012.
My own research hasn’t stood still either. So I found a lot to tweak, re-nuance, even re-cast, through the whole text. If the book was a house, it was more than just a re-paint, it was a complete refurbishment. And why not? Musicians do it all the time. Wendy Carlos re-made Switched On Bach (1968/2000). Jeff Wayne is re-making The War Of The Worlds (1978/2012). Rick Wakeman has just re-made Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1974/2012). Battlestar Galactica got re-imagined (1978/2003). So did The Bionic Woman (1976/2007). These things do not invalidate the old; instead, they give us something new – something more, something we can enjoy anew, alongside the earlier incarnation.
This applies to fiction, too. Perhaps more so - and there is good precedent for a re-imagining. I discover that J R R Tolkien did this with The Hobbit, which he started re-writing in 1960 along the lines of The Lord Of The Rings. And if Tolkien did it…well, what more need be said?
That is where the old NaNo manuscript comes in. How to do it? That’s for the next post. Meanwhile – what do you think of taking your NaNo MS – or any MS that’s been sitting in a drawer gathering dust – and sitting down with more leisure to re-cast, re-imagine and re-model?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012