While editing, many writers find themselves stuck. The words have been jumbled about, commas have been added, but the prose is still missing something. You’ve tried adding description, adding background information, taking out some dialogue, but it’s still not working quite right. If you’ve reached this point, take a breath, relax, and read on.
Don’t be afraid to rewrite. Many writers are afraid of rewriting for some reason. Mostly, I think it’s because they think about rewriting the entire book and how much work went into writing it the first time. If that’s the case, you can relax. Remember how much you enjoyed writing? Rewriting is enjoyable too, I promise.
You don’t have to rewrite your whole book. Phew, got that fear out of the way. Focus on the sections that you feel aren’t working. It can be a chapter, five chapters, a paragraph. Take it slowly. Start rewriting something small. You’ll be surprised how much a work can improve once you get out of the trappings of your earlier draft.
The How of Rewriting: My Process
- Identify which section or chapter you wish to rewrite
- Sounds easy enough. Not always so. Look out for sections of unrealistic dialogue, long passages where your character is alone, first meetings with characters. Usually, these sections remain rough well into editing.
- (Optional) Make a list of the basics of what happens in that section/chapter
- If you don’t know your section/chapter well enough or you’re worried you’ll miss something important or jumble the order, by all means, make a list. Though be careful not to get too detailed. Do not write down exact lines from the original chapter. The goal is to deviate from that. You can re-add those lines later, if you so wish.
- Personally, I try to avoid these lists because I like to see what new things I can come up with in a rewrite. Sometimes, there are simpler paths I missed before, or a character surprises me in some way. I want to be open to the changes.
- Save the original section/chapter in a separate document.
- This is important. You will reference this after the rewrite to see what details need to be added in or favorite lines re-inserted.
- You know your weaknesses and strengths. Focus on improving those things you are weak in and playing to your strengths. For example, I always try to add more sensory details when I rewrite. What does the room smell like? What does that blanket feel like? What noises are going on in the background?
- Don’t worry about whether it’s better or worse, just write. You can always grab bits of the old chapter. Or you can totally scrap the rewrite and try again. Whatever works for you.
- Read the Rewrite and lightly edit
- Read what you wrote. Tweak some words, add some commas, whatever it needs. Get it as clean as you can in one sweep. Maybe even take some notes on parts you liked and parts you didn’t like.
- I would also advise saving this separately (as a backup) before moving on to the next step.
- Read the Original Version
- Compare favorite lines to the new lines. If the favorite still sounds better to you, then add it in to the new version.
- If your rewriting went poorly, then you might want to do the reverse. Add the new lines that sound better into the old version and go with that. Or try rewriting it again (after you’ve taken a nice long break, maybe watched something inspiring or read some of a favorite book).
- If your rewriting went well, then you probably cringed all the way through reading the old version. Don’t panic. Your new version is better, you’ve improved as a writer, and you’ve (hopefully) overcome your fear of rewriting.
- Take a Break
- I’m serious. Go get something to eat. Go for a jog. Take a shower. Watch an episode of a show. Do something other than writing to distance yourself from your work for a bit. This will help you get a fresh perspective when you move on to the next step, and it will prevent you from getting annoyed with your own words by reading them too much in a short span.
- Read the Rewrite again
- It’s a good idea to start a little before the rewrite (the section before or the chapter before) to see how it flows into the new stuff, and to continue reading at least a few paragraphs after as well.
- Edit. Celebrate. Dance.
The Why of Rewriting
- You’ve improved as a writer since you first wrote the scene. You know your scenes better. Why shouldn’t you do better rewriting them?
- Even with all the editing you’ve done, your scene hasn’t changed much. There’s only so far a scene can go when you’re tweaking sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word. If your scene still needs to improve but has reached that trap of staying too much the same, then rewrite.
- Maybe there’s another way for the scene to play. Something you would have never considered because you’re so trapped in the words you’ve written. Take the chance to explore and see how the scene can change.
- Perhaps the scene is told from the wrong point-of-view. In a rewrite, you can experiment by telling it from another character’s POV. Then you can see firsthand if it works better or not.
- Rewriting doesn’t take as long as you think it will. Sure, the beginning may be slow. But once you get into it, you’ll be churning out words faster than the first time you wrote it (unless you wrote it during a sprint for NaNoWriMo).
Why Does it Work?
- You’ve improved as a writer.
- You know your scenes better; you know what they need to accomplish.
- After writing the entire book, you know your characters better.
- You’ve eliminated many of the ways that don’t work through editing.
- You’re more aware and careful of what needs to be added.
- You know your weaknesses, so you’re better at avoiding them.
- You know your strength, so you’re better at showcasing them.
While I was beta reading a book one time, the writer realized she needed to add two chapters. She scrambled to write them and sent me the unedited version to look over. And you know what? It was just as good as the writing she’d spent months tweaking and editing, if not better. She was surprised with my feedback, worried that she’d have to fix so much because it was put together so hastily. But here’s the thing: she knew exactly what needed to go there. She had a plan going in. This is where preplanning comes in handy (I’ll do a post on prewriting later). Knowing what needs to go there gives the writing direction and focus. Rewriting follows this same principle. You know what happens, you know what’s important. Once you rewrite, you’ll find it’s easier than you’d imagined.
Happy rewriting! If you have any tips to share or questions, please comment below.