Rewriting is hard, but inevitably at some point during your drafting process you will need to do it. I was extremely intimidated by rewriting when I was working on polishing up my first novels. I was always afraid of ruining something and irrevocably destroying key scenes. Still, I knew in my head that it was something that needed to be done. So, with far too many emotions, I dove in and learned through experience my methods for rewriting. Everyone’s approach will be different, but I have found some key practices that help me to have successful and positive rewriting experiences. It isn’t common knowledge, but did you know that I deleted an ENTIRE character from Night Bells before it was published? It’s true! I went back through and erased an entire character that truly added nothing to the story. How did I let myself do that? Courage. It takes immense courage to make rewriting worthwhile. Not sure you have that same courage? Here are some steps to help bolster your might!
//1// Use comments wisely. — If you use Microsoft Word for your drafts, then you’re probably aware of the beautiful function called “Commenting”. If you go to your Word task-bar and click on the “Review” tab, you will see the function “New Comment”. Highlight a portion of text you’d like to make a note about and then click this function. You can make notes about anything you like! This is an invaluable tool during my rewriting process. While my drafts are in progress, I use this function all the time to make notes about things I’d like to change, things I’d like to see fleshed out, and things I want to see more of. You should be using this function if you’re not already. It can make the rewriting process go SO much more smoothly.
//2// Keep notebooks handy. — Since comments are great for keeping track of small changes or minor notes, you’ll probably not want to use them for larger annotations. While I’m reading through a draft-in-progress, not only do I perform step 1 above, but I also keep a notebook at my desk to write down larger changes or portions of new scenes I’d like to include. This keeps my “first draft” from becoming so much of a mess. I reserve the larger changes for the next draft in which I’ll implement the action items from comments in step 1 and the larger items from my notebook annotations in this step.
//3// Re-envision the scene. — After your read-through of the initial draft, you’ll probably have collected a handful (or more) scenes that you’d like to change, reinvent, or tweak. Go to a particular section of your draft and look at all the comments you wrote there in your file. Then, look at any notations you made in your notebook. Sit down with a fresh notebook page (not your draft file) and rework the dialogue and descriptions in a troubling section. Add and remove characters. Take the whole thing a different direction just to see what would happen. Don’t like what you have written in the notebook? Go at it again from a different angle. Do this as many times as you need to to feel that you have your new vision on paper.
//4// Cut the original scene from the draft file and paste it in a fresh document called “CUTS”. — For every novel I’m working on, I keep a document called “cuts”. When I want to rework a scene, I take out the entire section that’s bothering me and paste it into the new document, making sure to note which page and section it came from in case I want to add it back in (p.s.–I typically never want to add it back in, but it’s there just in case). This method helps you not to panic if your rewritten scene doesn’t work for you. All you have to do is paste it from your CUTS document back into your original draft file and everything’s okay. Chances are, though, you’ll like your rewritten scene better and you won’t even have to worry about it.
//5// Read through an entire chapter in which you made changes and check for continuity. — After you’ve rewritten a scene, be sure to go back and read the context all around it to make sure your new scene matches up with surrounding events. If you need to, you may want to restart your steps at #1 again to help with additional rewrites to help the surrounding matter flow with your new changes. Don’t worry. This is all part of the process. In fact, you’ll probably repeat steps 1-5 over and over until you are 100% happy with an entire chapter or section.
//6// Read through the entire draft in which you’ve performed various rewrites. — This part can take a while, so don’t fret. While you’re reading through a freshly finished draft, keep your notebook out to make large, general notes about the continuity of the draft, the plot, character interactions, etc. Do not make any new comments or changes just yet.
//7// Give your draft a break. — Maybe take a few days or a few weeks, depending on your timeline. After a small break, jump back into your draft with the intention of editing and rewriting as needed.
//8// Repeat steps 1-7 as needed. — Seriously. Writing is hard work and you don’t want to start line-editing your draft without rewriting it to the exact story that you want. Step 8 might lead you to 10 or more read-throughs of your novel. That’s okay. You really don’t want to enter the line-editing portion (i.e. proofreading//rephrasing//polishing) stage of your drafting without getting your rewrites squared away.
//9// Read rewritten portions (or the entire draft) out loud. — This may seem like an odd step, but believe me it is helpful. I will often read portions of my novel out loud to check for flow, continuity, odd phrasing, or sections that seem “off”. Sometimes your ears will catch things your eyes won’t.
//10// Smile and be confident in your rewrites. — Again, it can take many rewrites and read-throughs before you’re 100% satisfied with the section or draft as a whole, but that is just part of the process. As well, you may never be 100% happy with what you’ve got. At some point, though, you’ve got to be confident in your work and move on. Some of us could spend decades polishing a novel and rewriting troublesome sections, but that is not an efficient way to handle rewrites. You’ve got to acknowledge your work at some stage in the game and move on.
Do you use a particular method for rewriting? If so, are your steps different from mine? I’d love to hear how you approach troublesome sections of a novel draft! Share, share, share!