How to Rewrite Your Novel (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Typewriter_Writing_Writer_238822_lI’m taking a break from my usual Five on Friday feature, because, honestly, all I’ve been focusing on this week is the rewrite of my novel. Instead, I’m writing about rewriting.  Hahaha.  Clever, huh? All right, I will stop now and get right to it.

So, you’ve gotten notes from your editor, or your beta readers, or your critique group. In my case, I’d gotten notes from an editor who is interested in the novel but wanted some changes before she would commit to buying it. So there you/I are/am, staring at someone’s ideas about how to change your novel.  What do you do now? (Besides bury your face in a tub of ice cream in despair. Or in my case, open a bag of potato chips.  And crack the spinach dip.)

Finding a way back in to your manuscript after you’ve written what you thought was a tight draft can be difficult.  But it is also rewarding, because you’ll realize you are making your novel the best it can absolutely be. (That is, if you trust the person or people giving you notes.)  What follows is my process, with a couple of big tips.

Big Tip #1: Know what your novel is about.  Yeah, I know, you’ve already written one or a million drafts so of course you know what its about.  But take a minute and think about this question, and then answer honestly: do you really know what its about? My potential editor asked me this question.  Is the book a romance, she wondered further? Or is it something slightly different? I thought long and hard about this and once I decided on the answer, it made everything else follow.

Big Tip #2: Create a hold file.  I don’t know about you, but I cringe every time I delete something–even if its a sentence that’s not that good. I can’t help but think that I’m going to regret it.  And even though I know I have a copy of the manuscript without the current changes, I still have a hard time.  My solution is to create a hold file.  I copy and paste my precious darling words to the file, and then I don’t feel like I’m losing them forever.  I’ve been doing this for years–and I don’t think I’ve ever once gone back to use those precious darlings. But it makes me feel better as I’m working and that’s what matters!

novel writing, writing, rewriting, revision, novel rewrite, rewriting process

novel writing, writing, rewriting, revision, novel rewrite, rewriting process

Okay, that being said, here’s my process.  (And remember, this is for when you’ve already rewritten it one or more times yourself and are responding to the critiques of others.)

  1.  Go through the notes and write any new bits that might be necessary.  For instance, I had some things with characters that needed clarifying and straightening out and to do this I had figure out more about them myself. For me, this works best if I have at it with paper and pen, letting all kinds of ideas onto the page, and then transferring the good bits of this to the computer so I can read it later.  One could argue that step #2 should come first, and I admit you might have a good point.  But I like the idea of trusting that I know the story and writing fresh.
  2. Reread. Many people insist on printing the manuscript out for this step, and in previous drafts I’ve done that, too.  But this time I read it on the computer. Part of the reason is that I read so many manuscripts I’m almost more comfortable reading on the screen than hard copy.  And another reason is that I find the process of making notes on hard copy, then transferring them to the computer onerous. Do what works for you.
  3. Go through the manuscript and  make notes about where you need to insert, change or tweak things. Don’t make the actual changes yet.  This way it becomes almost like a second reading and by now, you’ll have the book thoroughly in your head. The method I use for this is to use all caps and start each insertion with TK.  Why? Because those two letters are the only two in the alphabet that will never be used together in a word, and so it makes doing a search for them very easy.
  4. Go through again and make the actual corrections/insertions.
  5. Give it a rest. This is the point I am at as I read this. I finished the corrections yesterday, did other things today, and am taking tomorrow off (though I am doing a Valentine’s Day themed reading for those of you in Portland). I plan to go back to it on Sunday.
  6. Read it again to make sure all your corrections, throughlines and character development hang together.  Also look for typos, underlines indicating that Word things you’ve done something wrong, etc.
  7. Ship it off to wherever it is going, and collapse on your couch with a great big huge glass of wine.

Phew! It sounds like a lot of work, and it is.  But I’m accomplishing it, start to finish, in just shy of a month.  And I will confess I dithered at the front end, because diving into a rewrite always takes a bit of dithering, in my estimation. One must worry that one will not be able to accomplish it, even though one has done it a million times before.  And my dithering probably cost me  a week few days.

That’s my process.  What’s yours? Or are you too exhausted after reading all this to tell me?

Photos by kiamedia and wax115, from everystockphoto.

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4 Comments on "How to Rewrite Your Novel (A Step-by-Step Guide)"

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J.D.
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J.D.
Another great post, Charlotte. This advice would work for any rewrite but I think the approach to rewriting before submission differs a little. An outline, even if you didn’t write from one, is probably more important when working on your own rewrite. I need a list just to know what’s in my book. Of course with my own stuff, there is lots of leeway. Sometimes I make huge changes. I’ve never had an agent but I assume she gave you guideposts and the backbone of the story remains the same? Sounds like a great learning experience. I’m glad you’ve had… Read more »
Don Williams
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Don Williams

I wish you the best in your rewrite. I hate redoing anything, ,be it redoing writing, re-doing housework, redoing the snow shoveling, or what have you? I don’t mind doing little touch ups, but anything major depresses me. I know, thanks to your great rewrite types your final draft will be equally great.

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