Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tips for Tackling the Rewrite

Every writer knows the drill:

*  My manuscript is done!  I'll just hand it to my editor for a quick polish. I rock!

*  AACKK! What's with all the markups? I thought it was done. Now I see it's just doomed. I suck.

*  It's lurking on my hard drive, taunting me. I can't bring myself to open it. I'm overwhelmed.

Time passes. One day...

*  ~Pulls on big-girl panties. Opens file.~ Time to get to work. I will.

Rewrites can be hard. Oh, the actual work is rarely all that difficult. But getting into the correct mindset  -- one that revels in the challenge instead of wanting to sit rocking and muttering in a dark corner -- can be brutal.

I recently worked with a writer who thought his manuscript was ready for my editorial services. Instead, it's in need of a rather drastic rewrite. I worded my thoughts on the matter as delicately as possible, but I know they probably still seemed harsh.

Every writer wants a reader that says: "This is fantastic! I loved every single word!"

Anything less is a letdown. Which means no one wants to hear: "This manuscript is not yet ready for an editor. It first requires a significant amount of rewriting and polishing."

Agony. Cue Bon Jovi's "Shot Through the Heart." Set it for infinite repeat play...

But rewrites don't have to be painful. Some tips for getting through them.

1.) Break Up With the Current Manuscript

Your love affair is over. The words in their current form are NOT perfect. The sequencing and story line needs work. Accept that though your eyes see only assets, other (more objective) eyes see major flaws.

So be strong. Break it off. Tell the book that it's over. No matter how much it begs or bribes, you and it are through. You want out of your existing relationship. You're going to pick up the pieces and move on.

Photo by Scott Liddell from www.morguefile.com
2.) We Can Still Be Friends (With Benefits)

A rewrite doesn't mean that you throw everything away and start from scratch. Instead, it's an opportunity to redefine your relationship with your story and keep only what works best. 

Keep a copy of the old manuscript somewhere. No matter what happens in the rewriting process, the original story will still exist.  You can always go back to it, if you need to. (Once the rewrite is underway and the story gains new strength, you'll be surprised at how rarely you wish to revisit the past.)

3.)  Don't Plan the Wedding Before the Date is Over

Rewriting doesn't mean the time already spent on the manuscript is wasted. It just means that more time is required to make sure the project is viable. Beware of rushing headlong into querying or self-publishing. Take your time and enjoy the process.

When beginning a rewrite, I suggest revisiting your original outline (and, if non-fiction, your existing Table of Contents). Rewrite in bite-sized pieces, chapter by chapter.

Start with Chapter 1. Determine exactly what you want it to convey. Know how you are going to hook your reader and keep him or her turning pages. Rewrite it for sentence and paragraph clarity. Then give that chapter to a few trusted Beta readers. Ask such questions as "Is this clear?" "Is it compelling?" "Would you keep reading? Why or why not?" (For further ways to make the most of your Betas, see A Cheat Sheet for Beta Readers.)

Polish Chapter 1 until it is as good as you can possibly make it. Then turn your attention to Chapter 2.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

4.) Focus on the Relationship

A rewrite affords an opportunity to delve deeper into whatever compelled you to begin the book in the first place. Re-examine your rationale. Do you still subscribe to the theories you had when you began writing? If so, are they clearly explained in your book? If your theories have evolved, how can you use your change of heart to strengthen the project?

A rewrite also allows you to re-evaluate the relationships within the work. Can you ratchet up the dramatic tension between the protagonist and antagonist? What about between the hero and heroine? Can you add layers to your primary (and secondary) characters that will enrich the story and, ultimately, enrich the reader?

Of course you can. And every time you improve upon a relationship within the text, remember to rejoice that you had the opportunity to do the rewrite. The work would have suffered without it.


What's your best tip for rewriting? What helps make the mere thought of undertaking a rewrite bearable? Add your tips to the comments below.

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