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
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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