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.