Writers Need to Rethink Rewrites

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by smwright

Rewrites have a negative connotation in the writing world, and when listening to some writers talk about them, you’d suspect they were on par with a root canal! I’m well up to my head in revisions for my SciFi novel right now, but you won’t catch me griping about them. Revisions and rewrites are just a natural part of the writing process. They are only as bad as you make them.

That is why I encourage fellow writers to rethink rewrites: they are your friends! Part of my equanimity toward rewrites comes from the fact that I had to literally rewrite most of my fantasy novel. I made all my revisions, polished it up, and then BAM! My flashdrive died taking all my hard work with it. After that, rewriting small sections or even chapters is nothing. One of the things that got me through that crisis was this thought: it will be better than it was.

“It will be better than it was” should be every writer’s mantra when facing revisions and rewrites. No first draft is ever perfect. Mine are laden with spelling errors, incomplete thoughts where my fingers jumped ahead along with my brain, redundancies, repeated sentence structures, and other general errors. I type fast, and when doing that, there are going to be errors. That is OK! That is what the writing process is all about: getting words on page. And conversely, the editing process is about polishing your story, catching errors, expanding on themes that you started to explore but didn’t fully give them their due, and so much more.

However, writers need to be honest with themselves when approaching revisions and rewrites. They have to accept their baby is imperfect, that sometimes they have to kill their darlings. This can be tough for some writers, particularly those new to craft. So instead of imagining yourself as a murderer, picture yourself as a momma bird; sometimes, you just have to push your babies out of the nest in order to ensure their survival and ability to thrive in a cruel world. You don’t want your book wallowing in its own filth: You want it to soar.

Perhaps, the best way to achieve that goal is to bring in an editor and beta readers. They can root out issues with a manuscript, which in turn can spark rewrites. For instance, I will be performing a partial rewrite on my first chapter. When three beta readers (one of which is a professional editor) say it’s slow, it is slow and needs addressed. Heck, when I went through my printout, I knew they were right. There are other areas that I will be addressing, too, many of which I knew were problem even before I sent out the manuscript to my beta readers; however, I knew they would offer suggestions that would get my brain fluids going and provide me with a new viewpoint: the viewpoint of a reader.

Beta readers and editors have a tendency of opening our eyes to aspects of a work that don’t work while also providing valuable insight into possible fixes or alternative directions. Without a doubt, they are valuable tools in the revision process; however, some writers take things too far and do everything beta readers say to an extreme.

To those writers, I provided these sagely words: take all advice with a pinch of salt. Not all advice or critique will be something you want to implement into your final draft. With that said, take all critique, the good and the bad, courteously. Then, when it comes to final revisions, consider whether certain advice works with the story you are trying to tell.

The main key to rethinking revisions remains the need to switch your mindset. Editing and rewrites can be fun! They allow you to tweak or play with sections of your novel—to try something new. I will be playing with one of my later fight scenes in my SciFi novel. While rereading it via printout, it struck me as being flat, especially compared to another fight/flight scene earlier in the novel. I hope to try out several different changes in the scene to hopefully make it more exciting and suspenseful. It truly will be fun, not painful—and that is all about mindset. I know when I’m done it—not just the scene, but the novel—will be better.

So rather than focusing on the present and all the effort, which can be daunting, involved in revisions, focus on the outcome: a piece that tells a good story, is actually enjoyable for the reader, showcases your talent, and possibly gets you noticed by a publisher.

So godspeed on your edits.

 

 

Guest post contributed by Smwright. The creator of B&I is a staff writer and copy editor at The Papers Incorporated, where she works on a variety of publications from weekly newspapers to monthly and bi-monthly magazines. She was also named the editor for Michiana House & Home. Check out more of her work on her website.

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22 thoughts on “Writers Need to Rethink Rewrites”

  1. Sage advice that I’ll be heeding. I have one beta reader for my current WIP and I value her feedback. Since she doesn’t read the genre I’m writing in, I think it makes her feedback better for me (at least I tell myself that!). If it hold her interest then I feel that I’m on the right track in my writing.

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  2. A good, useful post. Revisions of fiction are almost always messy because they involve changes of plot, dialogue, and character details, often all at the same time. Revisions of essays and non-fiction are, for me, easier to handle. I love the feeling of *seeing* what I want to say and honing in on how I want to say it by cutting a line, adding a sentence, or changing from a word that was close to what I mean to the *exact* word. When I know how the essay should be, the edits are fun, and I race to get them out before the Gods of Writing strike me with this week’s case of amnesia.

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  3. I couldn’t possibly agree more! I’ve written and rewritten a specific novel 4 times now. And with each rewrite, I am faced with new challenges, but also, better writing. Revisions and rewrites are our friends. Without a doubt! And congratulations on making it this far with your novel! 🙂

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  4. Thanks for the post! Needed to read this. I know my baby is imperfect and needs to be polished. But as I’m rewriting I start thinking ‘god, this sucks.’ And then I stall and question why I’m doing this, before coming back and picking up from where I left off. If I even hope to finish my rewrites to send to beta-readers, edited, and polished some more by December, I think I’m going to start using that mantra “It will be better than it was” before I write. Thanks again.

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  5. Lovery post! I actually enjoy rewrites more than the first draft. It certainly brings out the perfectionist in me, and there’s something satisfying about working on a sentence until it flows just right.

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  6. I love rewrites and editing. Writing is like plotting out the idea and getting everything down. Editing is where I come up with my best stuff. The stuff that doesn’t come when I’m concerned with capturing the ideas. It took some practice to look at my original draft, but once I got used to the idea that it is supposed to be crappy and I can make it instantly better, I got to liking it.

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  7. The only time I really mind rewriting is when my timeline is screwed up (which always happens!!) I keep thinking “I could have avoided this if I’d just written a damn outline” but I’m not an outlining sort of person!

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  8. That’s what I keep telling myself as I slog through draft after draft: “It will be better than the original.” I wish the process were easier, but there are no shortcuts to hard work. Truth is, the more you know about the craft, the more difficult writing becomes–at least for me.

    Thanks for the encouragement!

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  9. Maybe I’ve just had a bit too much Kool-Aid, but I’ve learned to love rewrites. After full-rewrite #1, I learned to let go of characters who are merely window dressing. After full-rewrite #2, I learned to literally give each character a voice by consciously changing the sentence structure with which each character speaks. After full-rewrite #3, I’m going to send ‘er off again with higher hopes. If nothing comes back from the literary representation world, I’ll sit down to start #4.

    All of that to say, I completely agree! Thank you for the post!

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  10. I agree wholeheartedly, Soooz. When it comes to writing, we’re all capable of putting a reasonably good first draft on paper. But if you simply stop there, all you’ve got is what could have been a great book. First drafts are nothing more than a way to get your characters and story down. And, they’re almost invariably rough and flawed. The REAL genius is in editing and polishing your work until you’ve got a gem DeBeers would be happy to sell. Sure, you’ve already put in hundreds of hours and perspired quarts of blood over your baby — but don’t you think you and it deserve a little more effort in making it the best it can be?

    PS– As far as the flash drive that bit the big one? Been there, done that, bought the world tour t-shirt. And I learned from it. Now, EVERYTHING I write gets saved to a flash drive; and two different cloud services; and a separte email account used only for that. Every single day that I write. No exceptions. Makes me a bit of a belt & suspenders kinda guy, I know. But no way in Hell am I EVER going to have to re-create a book again from memory. (Plus, since the email and cloud service backups are all time-stamped, I’ve got a foolproof method of proving a specific work existed at a given time, if I ever need to get all midieval on some plagiarist’s hindquarters.)

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