Make Your Rewrite Worth It
Do you have massive plotholes? Changed your mind on a subplot? Did your MC end up with the wrong guy? You need more than an edit. You need a rewrite. So how do you know where to start rewriting and how to not waste your time?
First you have to know what you want to achieve with your rewrite. There’s big rewrites (changing subplots/plot lines) and small rewrites (rewriting a scene or two to make it pop). Plenty of authors get stuck writing and rewriting scenes but never really fix them; they just change the scenery or the dialogue a bit and wonder why the scene never feels right. Goals will help prevent you from spinning your rewriting wheels. Set yourself reasonable goals and keep them in mind as you go, that way you don’t get distracted by sparkly new scene ideas.
I made my goals, now what?
Next, remember that you don’t grow any skill, including writing, in a linear fashion. What this means is that you don’t get measurably better every minute, every hour, or every day. You become a better writer when you make new discoveries, like exactly what makes a sentence passive or what makes an action scene pop. Once you learn those lessons, you’re a much better writer, then you improve fractionally as you practice.
This makes it essential to take a critical eye to the problems in your story and research the best ways to fix it. Because trust me, I stumbled across what passive voice was by feel and instinct— it took me almost a year— while Saskia researched the grammar side and had it down in a week. Researching your weak points is your best friend. And your work will have weak points in its first, third, and final draft. That’s okay. Don’t publish the first or the second draft. Accept the mistakes and research. Denying your book has problems won’t make them go away.
Should I get beta readers right now?
Rewrites are not the time for editors or final, professional beta-reads. They’re the time for outside casual readers with opinions. When you’re considering a rewrite, you don’t have to go it alone. After all, you’re too close to your work to see every issue. Don’t be afraid to grab a friend or join a writing group and show them your work. They’ll be able to point out issues you never noticed before, like how the MC isn’t likable enough or they can’t picture where a character is in a scene. They’ll look at your work with fresh eyes, and though it’ll sting a bit to hear your mistakes, you’ll get a list of what fixes to research much faster than rewriting your own work four times and hoping you’ve caught all the problems.
And what if I’m a visual learner?
Now that you’ve got your list of fixes, I want you to keep track of your changes outside your document. After all, editing tends to fix big plot holes and introduce small inconsistencies. So whether you make a brand new outline with changes marked in red or a big list of changes you tape to your monitor, make your changes obvious and within reach. This’ll keep you aware that you deleted a character two scenes ago so you should definitely not have him in the finale. It’ll also keep you aware of minor things, like the book starts on a Tuesday in this version, so the MC shouldn’t be thinking she has church tomorrow.
If you’re a visual learner, I highly suggest you write down one- to two-sentence summaries of each of your scenes, then color-code them by subplots. This will let you see if your subplots are stuffed in corners of your novel. Maybe you mentioned a romance subplot in the beginning and then completely forgot to mention it again until the finale, or maybe you suitably sprinkled it throughout your book.
How much effort shout I put into a rewrite?
Finally, you have to rewrite your manuscript. It’s time to unleash your inner editor— and then leash it again. Focus on your goals, reward yourself for your hard work, and try not to get caught in an editing cycle. For every author that queries their work too soon, there’s two more who give up because they’re stuck editing chapters one to three ad infinitum. When you’ve stared at your edits for so long you can’t tell if you’ve made improvements anymore, stop. Put that chapter away. Maybe give it to some beta readers for unbiased feedback. And when you’ve gotten golden reviews on most of your chapters, put down the red pen. Submit your work to agents and publishers. You’ve done it. You made your rewrites worth it. You’re going to be a published author.
After you make the publisher’s requested edits. There’s somehow always another comma to fix.
Best of luck. These RedPenpals believe in you. If you need some ideas about editing techniques, Saskia’s got her Super List of Editing Techniques. She’s also got a brand new editing service if you’d like to request a quote. Once you’re ready to publish, check out Pine’s blog on how to get short stories versus novels published, and follow Pine on Twitter for publishing news. Follow Saskia for editing news. Finally, check out our Newsletter to stay up to date! Thank you for stopping by and let us know what topics you’d like us to cover next.