Thursday, October 14, 2010

Considering A Rewrite?

When I was a...greener writer, the idea of big revisions or a full rewrite terrified me. It wasn't just the work, but I worried all that work wouldn't be worth it. I worried I would ruin my story rather than improve it. And why rewrite a whole book when you could just write another one better?

Well, let's just say I was wrong about that.

Having done a rewrite, I've learned that it can be worth it. It's certainly hard—I won't sugarcoat that—but the results can be amazing. But how do you decide if it's something you want to do? Of course any idea/book can be re-imagined and rewritten, but what tips the scale in favor of such an undertaking?

Of course it's a personal decision, but here are a few things to think about:

How much do you love the story? Because you're going to have to really, really love it. Like, love in a practically unhealthy way, where you are willing to possibly suffer a great deal before it's finished. If you don't, then move on. It's okay to move on! I've done so many times. Or maybe you just need a break from that book. That's fine, too.

Are you committed? It's going to get hard, harder than you expect. Sure, it'll be fun and exciting at first—you'll feel like you're making it better. But that will change. At some point the New Shiny Ideas will start calling. You'll decide the book won't fit the market anyway. Why waste time? Well, a half-done rewrite is more a waste of time than finishing. You have to be committed to actually finishing, to taking the risk.

Can you see and accept the big changes? Sure, maybe you could rewrite your book into a dystopian, but is that really what you want? Does the idea of changing big things make you excited or sad? If it makes you sad, then maybe this isn't right for you. You have to stick to your guns no matter what. Maybe an agent suggests a rewrite and would like to see it again if you do, but if you are not comfortable with the suggested changes then don't do it. Yeah, I just said that. Stay true to your stories. Believe in them. Rewrite when you can get excited about it, not for other people.

Are the changes substantial enough to merit the work? A rewrite should be huge. We're not talking just making your villain meaner or making it yetis instead of unicorns. A rewrite should involve serious plot, character, and world changes. It should be a different manuscript—a better, stronger, more cohesive one—and yet it should still contain the heart of your story. You'd be surprised how much you can change and still keep that.


If you decide to rewrite, I can promise that you'll eventually be happy with the work you do. It will be a better book. A different book, but better. That's just how it goes. Writers are always improving, so of course your next book will always be better. But that doesn't make your old IDEAS bad. Sometimes your ideas were good and you just didn't have the skill to get it out right the first time.

I've already had enough ideas to last me a lifetime, and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing to revisit some of them. Even a year ago I wasn't ready to, but now I think I am. And I'm freaking excited about it.

25 comments:

  1. It's like revisiting old friends!

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  2. I totally believe that some ideas are worth taking another look. My first manuscript sucked so bad it's almost funny but the idea behind it is still awesome and I had a few agents tell me that. Soooo, at some point I plan to go back and revisit it.

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  3. Great post. I just started a rewrite on something I wrote a year ago. Then, I was writing it for fun, for me. But looking back...it was just bad. The plot didn't make sense, the writing was crap, and there were so many characters even I forgot some. So I was nervous to begin this big task, but I wanted to so badly because I loved the characters and concept of the story. So far, it's been going great, and I'm excited to see where it ends up! I love your last line of the post :)

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  4. This was exactly what I needed! Rewriting is such a big task, and it's important to be able to go into it fully. If you've got reservations, rewriting just gets more intimidating than it already is.

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  5. I used to say rewriting terrified me. Then, I realized I was kind of being a lazy writer--both in time and emotional commitment to my ms. Now, I embrace rewriting. It can be hard, even painful, but it's where all the really great stuff comes from--where you figure out how content and form work best together, and what your story is really about. A great post and well thought-out. Thanks! - Stasia

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  6. Oh sigh... Yep, I know this feeling. My very first ms is a lovely story, but a crappy book, and it's going to get a complete overhaul someday. That thought is definitely daunting, but you're right: ultimately it's going to be VERY rewarding, I already know. I mean, to do justice to the story you wanted to tell, and to the wonderful characters you know and love -- what could be better than that? :)

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  7. I did "ruin" the first story that I rewrote to death. But I learned a lot and it was worth it.

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  8. Excellent, excellent post, Natalie. That first one? About the love? Essential. Can't do a rewrite without it.

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  9. I've always thought rewrites were a waste of time. Why write the story again when you've already written it? But now I understand. If the first draft has a good "heart" but looks a little sick... then maybe it does need a rewrite.

    Thanks for this post! You have some great points.

    Tessa

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  10. I'm almost finished with the third revision of my second novel. Even with some periods of despair and burnout, it was mostly enjoyable and very worthwhile.

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  11. I really enjoy rewrites.I find them exciting--like rekindling the love in a ten year marriage by doing something unexpectedly romantic. I'm in the middle of a rewrite right now.

    And I like the advice to stay true to yourself! I'll admit I sold out. My publisher and I Had differnet ideas for my book. It makes me sad. But I am getting it published. Maybe next time I'll have more say!

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  12. I JUST started a rewrite yesterday! They can be scary, but ultimately they are (in my opinion) easier, more fun, and better books in the end. You already know the characters and you already figured out a lot of the kinks and what works/doesn't work. It goes faster usually, too.

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  13. Such great points. I'm considering a huge rewrite right now.

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  14. I had to make the rewrite decision awhile back. It was scary because I didn't if I was overreacting to my writing. But in my heart I knew there were flaws. I am so glad I made the decision to rewrite. I have learned so much through the process and my manuscript is much better because of it. Excellent post.

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  15. Another great post! And something we all need to get better at.

    I have a hard time editing my own work. I've found that my best rewrites come after I've had someone else look at my ms and help me identify my mistakes. If you don't have an agent or an editor - and most of us don't - it's best to get a beta reader. Strangers are usually meaner than friends, they care less about your feelings, and are totally willing to destroy you. It's a good bad, I promise.

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  16. 'I've already had enough ideas to last me a lifetime, and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing to revisit some of them.'

    That's awesome.

    The thought of massively changing your MS is scary... until you start, and then I think it's kind of fun because in every scene you can have a choose your own adventure moment where you say do I want to keep what I wrote or do I change it.

    I've really enjoyed reading your posts this week, thanks for all the pep talks.

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  17. Rewriting is terrifying. Sometimes, though, it is SO necessary. My novel would never be the way it is today if I hadn't sat down, swallowed my fears, and rewritten it.
    Thanks for a fantastic post. I love your insights!
    Put it on Paper

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  18. I have a question: If the current draft has already been rewritten and reviewed by beta readers, both adult and target-audience, should the manuscript be held, as-is, during the quering process, figuring that an agent (or potential agent) will request changes (maybe major changes) before submitting?

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  19. I think I'd be stubborn and try to salvage at least a sentence from the original. We probably practically rewrite in our edits, but a total rewrite is so scary!

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  20. Rewrite when you can get excited about it, not for other people.

    This. :) People keep pushing me to get my book done and I feel like I'm disappointing them if I don't. I know I have to write for myself but sometimes it's hard. I'm grateful for the support though.

    Maybe I'm just not committed enough to the story, although I know there's something there. Plus I've been taken away with developing my fantasy world for my NaNo novel. Poor excuse though :P

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  21. Michelle, I think you should always feel like you are giving your best work to an agent. Yes, sometimes agents request revisions, but you're goal should to be have such a great manuscript that they don't have to.

    The market is really tough these days, and you don't want to give an agent or editor any excuse to say no.

    Inthewritemind, there's nothing wrong with taking a break from a project! Sometimes you need that time to see it in another light. I'm currently brainstorming on a project that is over two years old! At the time I didn't think it was at all salvageable, but just now I'm starting to see how I could really change and improve it.

    So yeah, breaks are good sometimes.

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  22. i love this post so much.
    so much.

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  23. Thanks, Natalie. I always have ideas on how to add more or tweak stuff. Currently working on book two of three and am sending out more queries on book one, since my #1 choice admired the amount of work that I put in, but said no thanks after having a 'full' for five weeks. My badge of honor. I'm so new to this that I don't know what my best work should be. I've revised, gone to a variety of beta readers, 2 loved it. 2 liked it. And 1 left me a little confused. I revised again, and I still have a growing list of possible additional revisions. Must just be the project manager in me. I don't know what the finished product is supposed to look like! (Oh, wait! I already said that!)

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  24. I'm going to do a rewrite of WIP 1B in January. The reason it's 1B? Because it's really two stories. The subplot kind of took over and I'm way more attached to that character and her story. But since she was (supposed to be ) a subplot, it isn't anywhere near fleshed out.

    So rewrite coming. PS, are you doing nano?

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  25. I took a class by Robert Ray author of The Weekend Rewrites the Novel. It was amazing how he shows you how to take it from a different perspective. Using his method has really helped me to see where there are holes in the plot and subplot. He takes it to a whole other level.
    It's time consuming, but it gives you the perspective agents and publishers are looking for.

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