rewriting made easy

The 6 Best Ways to Rewrite Your Book

6 best ways to tackle rewrites pinterestEverybody who loves to rewrite your book, raise your hand! No takers? Yeah, that’s pretty much what I thought.

In my experience of ten novels and hundreds of short stories, rewriting ranks way at the bottom of the writing process–somewhere down there with paper cuts and insomnia. By the time you finish your beautiful story, all you want is to be done, finished, finis. The realization that you may need to go back and redo it is exhausting to say the least.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As I discovered during rewrites of my portal fantasy Dreamlander, there are ways to rewrite your book that can be both fun and easy.

Following are some of the tricks I’ve learned along the way.

1. Let the Manuscript Rest

Dreamlander (Amazon affiliate link)

Even if you’re already aware of your story’s problems as you type “The End,” don’t be in too big a hurry to start ripping it apart. Letting your manuscript cool for a while does two things:

1. It gives you the mental and emotional distance to view the story objectively.

2. It allows you to rebuild your creative muscles, so you’ll have the stamina to tackle a major rewrite.

2. List Your Story’s Problems

While you’re waiting, don’t ponder your story, but do let it simmer in the back of your brain. Whenever you’re struck with an idea for an addition or the realization of a scene or character that doesn’t quite work, write yourself a quick note, so you’ll remember to consider it later, when you’re ready to get serious about how to rewrite your book.

3. Create a Scene Map

To gain a better sense of your overall story—including which scenes work and which don’t—make a map of your book.

Write a numbered list of your chapters and scenes. As you go, consider each scene’s importance and effectiveness. Use highlighters to indicate scenes that can be deleted, scenes that can be combined, scenes that are weak, and scenes that are perfect.

4. Make List of Necessary Changes

Using your map, create a list of directions for your rewrite.

For each scene that needs work, type the number of the chapter and scene (I included a brief description as well, to help me immediately recognize what section I was working on). Beside each scene’s designation, include a brief description of the work to be done: delete; combine with previous scene; delete minor character; change references to main character’s siblings, etc.

I also included some general instructions, at the top of my list, regarding changes I wanted to make throughout to my MC’s character arc, among other things.

5. Create Draft 2.0

Hacking up your precious work of art is always a bit traumatic, so put your mind at ease by saving your manuscript as a new file. That way, you will lose none of your initial brilliance, and if you decide you like things better the way they were before, you can always return to the first draft.

6. Rejoice in the Perfection You’re Creating

Rewriting is hard work. But it’s also freeing and satisfying. Raising your story to its full potential, cutting its weaknesses, and beefing up its strengths is exciting! Don’t lament the work; revel in it. As E.B. White pointed out,

The best writing is rewriting.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What steps do you use when figuring how to rewrite your book? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Good tips. I’m glad you’re enjoying your rewrite.

    I rewrite as I go. Chapters endure several edits before I send it out to my critters, but I know once I finish and type “The End,” it won’t [I]really[/I] be finished and I’ll still have to go over it a few more times.

    I only hope I realize when enough editing/rewriting is enough and finally call it completed. 🙂

  2. Very timely. I’m almost ready to go back and rewrite my novel from November. I already know I’m ditching two entire arcs, so that should be fun. Right?

    Thanks for the tips! Mapping the scenes sounds really useful, I’ll need to give that a shot.

  3. @Lorna: In my experience, a story is never finishes until it’s in print!

    @Jenn: I did my map on legal paper, but I know others who have had good luck using a posterboard or stickie notes.

  4. I think it was James Scott Bell who suggested the posterboard/sticky note approach. He said it is easier to move scenes around if you can just peel them off and stick them someplace else.

    I haven’t found a method that works for me yet.

  5. More useful advice, thank you for sharing.
    The fun part for me at the moment, is realising how much I have learnt this year. To rip apart and add, is a sign of my growth, so it is not a chore. Mapping sounds useful, thanks.

  6. @Lorna: Janet Evanovich uses a similar method (she calls it story boarding) as well. I tried the sticky notes in the early stages of my Dreamers Come outline, and it worked handily.

    @Glynis: If you can see what needs fixing and know how to fix it, then there’s no reason it needs to be a chore.

  7. These are great tips! I’ve only completed one novel, but when I started working on rewrites I found myself feeling totally overwhelmed.

  8. Rewrites usually are overwhelming. They present just as much work as the first draft – but often without the enthusiasm or the creative spark. But they’re oh so necessary!

  9. Humm bad memories: changing course on a book, new rewritten chapter; wrong labelling, saving on top of older and then newer files!
    Of course later a wish to get back some of first draft and… 3 maledictions.
    The hard way to learn labelling; files saving with a plan etc.
    Of course when it was paper you cat friend could do variants for you, an upside down flower pot and other malefices would do.

  10. Saving over/forgetting to save important work is the pits. I’ve learned the hard way (as most of us have) to back my work up several different ways.

  11. Good points – I always find that tasks like this make the rewriting process feel far more purposeful and manageable.

  12. Awwww…That post rocks considering that I am currently re-writing. Believe it or not, with the exception of the rejoicing, which I will do when I am done, I have accidently did all those step, almost in order.
    Thanks for the post.

  13. @dirtywhitecandy: I like my roadmaps – whether I’m outlining or rewriting.

    @Eternity: Sounds like you’re on the right path!

  14. Excellent thoughts re the “glory of the rewrite.” Facing our work with a critical (as opposed to creative) eye, can be painful. But, if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it can help us navigate the choppy waters of change. And, sometimes, I start looking forward to reading the finished product to sort of get me through the rewriting process. Your ideas are super and I will keep them in mind!

  15. Given enough time between edits, I always look forward to rereading my work. It’s exciting to revisit characters and settings! It’s in the nitty-gritty of sawing and hammering that things can get tough.

  16. Great tips, K.M.! I actually enjoy the editing process, which puts me in the minority, I suppose. Something about knowing I can finally make my story as perfect and polished and smooth as possible excites me. But I’ll admit sometimes the editing can get overwhelming, so I rely on certain steps, like the ones you’ve suggested.

    One thing I learned from James Scott Bell in his book Revision and Self-Editing, is that it’s easier to make a list of what needs to be changed in your novel, and figure out what is most important and least important. And then to gradually check items off the list one at a time, doing the most important ones first, until you’re done.

    I guess that’s simple and I should’ve already known that, but I tend to want to fix everything at once, from changing this plot point to adding a character, to changing the setting… it can become a crazy, jumbled mess if you’re not careful!

  17. I keep hearing good things about James Scott Bell’s book. I’m going to have to bump it up the list in my Amazon shopping cart!

  18. These are great tips. Thank you.

  19. You’re welcome! Thanks for commenting.

  20. When I write stories I tend to let the story write itself so that I don’t damage it’s flow. This might sound all airy-fairy, but it’s a great way for me to learn about my characters and opens up my creativity. I do only minor edits along the way, but that’s about it. Only when it’s done am I ready for the rewrite. I become far more analytical and I pretty much follow the procedures that you listed here.

    Giving it time is the factor that works best for me especially when I’ve been so involved in the story and the people.

    Non-fiction is different, however. I have to map it out first and then write it, simply because it makes the rewrite precedure far easier (and it makes the writing more coherent). The editing becomes more about phrasing and shortening rather than about major shifts – unless I severely mucked up my initial outline.

  21. I write my fiction much more along the same lines as you do your non-fiction. I realize my method of intensive outlining doesn’t work for everyone, but it sure does cut down on the work come rewrite time!

  22. I really should save the original just in case but never do! I loved some of your thoughts here and hope I remember them!

  23. Well, the post will always be here, in case you do forget. 🙂

  24. Good advice. I’m glad to see that I actually did do all these things in my rewrite recently. It was a really tough rewrite but I got through it and the work is so much better because of it

  25. Rewrites, in my experience, are almost always tough. My current rewrite, however, has gone ridiculously smoothly. Having lots of fun with it!

  26. I only hope I realize when enough editing/rewriting is enough and finally call it completed. 🙂
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  27. I’m going to do a post on that very thing one of these days!

  28. Anonymous says

    I know I didn’t raise my hand when you asked us to about rewriting. Rewriting is important though, thanks for the reminder.

  29. Rewriting is one of those necessary evils. But every once in while, the chore can be surprisingly fun!

  30. I must be very weird, even for a writer, as I prefer rewriting to initially writing, which I find sometimes cumbersome. I often find myself rewriting parts when I should be concentrating on moving the story forward to the end.

  31. No, you’re not weird. Lots of respected writers prefer the rewriting stage. I do think you’re in the minority though. But that’s the marvelous thing about the writing community – we all unite in our joy of writing (not to mention our general weirdness), but we all approach it so differently.

  32. Bookmarked for later use 😉

  33. I’m rewriting right now, and I feel that, while writing the first draft is killing a dragon, rewriting is killing a hydra with many heads. 🙂 I’m still trying to concentrate on one head at a time, but the others distract me a lot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s actually an awesome metaphor! I think we need some wallpaper to that effect…

  34. Betsey Riedl says

    I wrote a description of each scene on a mini-notecard, then literally threw them up in the air. I opened my dining room table to its fullest extent, and picked up two or three cards at a time, then arranged them on the table. Some scenes stayed in the same order, some changed. I was also able to see holes in the plot.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s actually kind of awesome! I’ve done that with sticky notes, only I wasn’t brave enough to toss them in the air. 😉

  35. I tried to write my novel into a screen play and found that not only kept me motivated and enthusiastic but it really made me brutally honest with my baby. Taking 280 pages and squishing it into 120 page screen play really kills the fluff.

    Dialogue that you thought was really smart is shown for the line fillers they were. Character development or lack there of, stands painfully obvious. Telling the story though dialogue becomes more critical when you imagine actors saying it.

    The turning the novel into a screen play had such a profound effect on me that I am re-writing the whole novel and making it into trilogy plus screen plays. Another benefit of turning a novel into a screen play is that you might actually try to submit it and see what happens. If someone buys the screen play you can add that to your books marketing .

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve been toying with the idea of trying this myself. I totally agree about it being a spotlight on poor dialogue.

  36. Any tips on how to rewrite if I wrote a story using an outline?

  37. I rewrote a scene in “Little Fires Everywhere” by Celeste Ng, I’m going to try to rewrite the whole book next.


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