August 17th, 2015

Finding the Gold in a Dust-Bunny Book

Kimberly Belle

For the past few months, I’ve been making the promotional rounds for my second novel, The Ones We Trust. I’ve been talking to readers and touring on blogs, and one of the questions I keep getting is, how was writing this story different than writing the first one? My answer is always the same: Um, how much time have you got?

I wrote the very first words for The Ones We Trust six years ago, all the way back in 2009. It was my very first attempt at a novel, and like most first novels, it wasn’t pretty. The characters were cliché, the conflict was uninspired, the dialogue was stilted and the writing was cringe-worthy. If there was a story in there, it was buried under all the wrong words—words even a newbie like me could tell were complete crap. When I was done, I closed the file, shoved it in a box under my bed, and chalked the experience up as practice.

The Last BreathI took everything I’d learned from that first failed attempt and wrote The Last Breath—the story that ultimately landed me an agent and a book deal. But when it came time to move on to book number three, The Ones We Trust wouldn’t leave me alone. Fix me, it kept whispering to me from under the bed. I have a story to tell.

So I pulled it out, dusted it off, and went back to work. I rewrote it, then rewrote it again and again (and again). I fixed the tone and the voice, matured my characters, deepened backstory to intensify the conflict. I added a subplot and a whole cast of new characters. I killed my darlings more times than I care to count. I lost a lot of sleep and I shed a lot of tears.

How many words did I waste? A million, at least. It took me that many to drill down to the very essence of the book—the slain soldier’s story. Though we never actually meet him on the page, The Ones We Trust is built around what, exactly, happened to him on the battlefield. This plotline was the crux of every single rewrite, a red thread, leading the way. It’s where, as soon as I got out of my own way, I found my story.

The Ones We Trust


We writers talk a lot about stories that demand to be told, about the ones that grab us by the guts and won’t let go. For me, The Ones We Trust was one of them. For six years, those characters lived in my head, dominating my days and filling my dreams with mini movie clips of their next scenes. My method of wrangling them to the ground (did I mention it took me six years?) is not one I’d advise or ever hope to repeat.

But like all great trials, it makes the successes—in my case, seeing my firstborn up there on the shelves—that much sweeter.

What do you think, WITS readers? Do you have a dust-bunny book with some gold dust on it?

 About Kimberly

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Kimberly Belle grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. A graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Kimberly lived for over a decade in the Netherlands and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits. She’s the author of two novels, THE LAST BREATH and THE ONES WE TRUST (August 2015). She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (, Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), Instagram (@KimberlySBelle) and Goodreads ( For more about Kimberly and her books, please visit her website, www.kimberlybellebooks.

37 comments to Finding the Gold in a Dust-Bunny Book

  • I had the same, Kimberly! I was fed up with the 5,467 edits of my first book and gratefully put it away. But when an agent finally called, and wanted to sign me, we talked about the book I’d sent, and she asked, “So, what else do you have?”

    I blurted. I couldn’t help myself. I’d like to think it’s because the book whispered to me, but honestly, it’s probably because I’ve always been a closet ‘Good Girl’, and couldn’t let her think I hadn’t been busy.

    In any case, it meant MORE edits to the dust-bunny book, but it’s published. and I’m proud of it.

    Am I’m never reading it again!

    • Ha! I feel you on the never-reading-again bit, Laura. Sometimes all you need is an editor to oh, so gently point out where the story needs help and voila! It’s a real book. 😉

    • Yes, but Laura, you cut your teeth on that book. You got it close enough that a good critique group and some time away (and some Margie tools) let you open the door again and fix it. 🙂

  • I have a dust bunny first book that I want to edit eventually. The writing isn’t polished but there’s a story there. One day!

    • That’s all it takes, Debbie, is a story that won’t let you go. And distance is a good thing. When you return to it down the road, you see all the things it needs. Good luck!

  • Jon State

    ‘Reanimated’ kept speaking to me in Georgia (2012) and came down to Florida with us, and I finally listened. I finished the last edit yesterday. I loved the journey.

  • Fred

    I can understand the effort of the first novel. My first has been going around in my head and on the screen for five years. It only took 30 days to write it while I was in the hospital but the rewrites between others has taken 5 years.

  • Same thing going on here! I know there are stories in the dust-bunny books (yep, four of them) but they have to wait for me to grow up enough. Learning by writing, every day.

  • Okay, I’m just gonna go there: I have NINE dust-bunny books. It took me that long to figure out that I am a scene writer and to learn how to finish books.

    I’m still working on that part because after I finish my current series, I have all those books to read through and polish up. Some of those markets have collapsed since then, so they will take a complete re-design.

  • Nine!?! Wow, that’s quite an arsenal, Jenny, I’m impressed. And I like the way Debbie refers to them as back burner stories. Whip ’em out when you need one. 😉 Good luck!

    • I like how Debbie refers to them too. It’s way more heartening to call them “back burner stories” than “unfinished dust bunnies.” She’s one of our rays of sunshine around here at WITS!

  • I have a few languishing, but my first book EVER is something I want to get back to, eventually. I can’t stop thinking about the characters or how to improve that book as I work on other books. I just looked at my notes/outline for that book. The story is there, I just didn’t know how to write a book at the time.

  • Yes, Laurie, take everything you’ve learned and get back in there. 😉 Good luck!

  • Does anyone else have a book they haven’t written yet, because it’s just so close-to-the-bone that you’re afraid you can’t do it justice?

    I just finished one, and I’m starting another! Yikes.

    • I have a couple of subjects I shy away from, for that same reason but also because I’m terrified they’ll tear me apart to write. Then again, those often are the best stories, aren’t they? 😉

    • You know I do, Laura! My high-risk pregnancy memoir is one of my nine. I’m about 12 scenes from a completed first draft there. And then the fun starts… 🙂

      And I’m so afraid I can’t do the topic justice.

  • Fae Rowen

    My first book was a medieval (semi) fantasy. Loved the story and the characters, but I didn’t know about POV so the clean-up will be atrocious! (My friends here at WITS have never seen it!) But when I decide to take a break from SF. I would like to pull it out and re-work it. And I’ve got six chapters of a “gothic” medieval that could work as the second in a series. Thanks for your post, Kimberly. Six years on one book–I’m not beating myself up anymore on my “just over a year” time anymore.

  • Great inspiration. I think we all have that ONE that will never leave us alone. My opus still sits in files and journals. I still constantly think about it. This proves it might take years, but it’ll get there!

    Congrats on your book!!!

  • Great blog, Kimberly! I have a dust-bunny novel that was highly controversial when I wrote it. (Agents and editors refused to believe a married woman would not know her husband was gay.) After selling different books to Berkley Publishing, my editor said she was going to buy the novel but rejected it months later. Still not sure why–since she rejected it for all the same reasons she had initially wanted the book. Maybe her boss thought it was still too controversial. After all these years, I’m hiring a former NY editor to evaluate it for today’s market. If it is salvageable, I’ll tackle the edits & self-publish it.

  • Love this! So glad you found your groove with that book. My first MS was an adult mystery that is tucked away, and my family asks me sometimes what I’ll ever do with it. I certainly hope I can pull it out someday, rework it, and publish. Because I still like the story; it’s just not what I feel I should be working on right now.

    Thanks for a great post! Congrats on the second book.

  • Wonderful post. I have one that’s been stuffed every where. I’ve stopped and started it so many times I’ve lost count. I started it in creative writing class for credit for a BA in about 1996. My daughter found it in the sewing machine chair where the clean notebook paper was. She called me at work and raved about it. So I dug it out at her insistence and started up on it again. Then life got in the way, Mother in dementia, breast cancer, still working full time, working on a Masters so I started to OK RWA and decided I had so many word count on it I would finish it. I got into a critique group and made all the changes and added a lot of chapters because I thought they knew more than I did. Submitted it to the wrong kind of publisher (called it romance and it was WF) so I put it away again. But it won’t leave me alone. I do want to write the book but it will be a major rewrite. Maybe it’s me that won’t leave it alone. Guess I could use what I have as an outline and go from there. I’m a pantser so I usually don’t outline, but who knows?

    • It seems like I’ve hit upon a topic that every writer can relate to. 😉 Good luck with your rewrites, if it keeps coming back to you, it’s probably a book worth dusting off!

  • […] called their early works “practice” novels, and while I definitely cut my teeth on that one, I really appreciated Kimberly Belle’s post about taking out a “dust-bunny book” and turning it into something great. I have confidence that I can and will do this with that first […]