Writing Process 3: Rewriting
This is part four of a continuing series of the writing process. For the previous articles in the series, see the end of this post.
What's there to say about rewriting? You just get in there and do it, right? So what's there to write about?
Well, plenty. For starters, let me make one thing clear: I make a distinction between rewriting and revising.
Rewriting is what you do after you've written a rough or discovery draft, glumping everything onto the page. You've written the rough draft, which is you figuring out the story for yourself. And now you have to figure out best to present the story to your readers. So you work on things like character arcs and ways to show theme and plot.
Revising is what you do after you've rewritten that first draft a gazillion times and finally feel you've gotten all the big picture stuff down pat. Revising has to do with word choice and making sure you have lots of different kinds of sentence structures, and grammar and punctuation. (And its the subject of next Monday's post.)
So, here's the deal about rewriting: at first, its hard. Because at first, especially when working on a long project, there's puzzlement about how to find a way back into your work. The logical place to start is with reading it again, but that can be confusing, also. Because, what are you supposed to be looking for while reading? How do you know what to change?
This is when giving your rough draft to trusted readers (critique group or a mentor) can be incredibly helpful, because they can give you a starting point. But what if you don't have access to such readers? Or if you're simply unwilling to yet show your draft to anybody(which is your right–follow your intuition about when to share)?
Here are a few tips:
1. Begin with reading. Because, really, you've got to go back to the beginning and remind yourself of how it all starts. I don't know about you, but by the time I've written some 350-odd pages, I have a hard time remembering every single nuance of the start. Or even the middle. So, print out your manuscript, grab a pen and notebook, and go sit in your favorite chair. The one where you sit to read books (of the sort written by other people). Read through your manuscript and take notes.
2. Find a way in. Your entry point might be something you notice about a character–how, for instance, he talks about his desire to become king in chapter 10 but really needs to inform the reader of this vital point a bit earlier. Or maybe you realize that a crucial plot point is misplaced. Or perhaps it is something small, like a description that you think could be rewritten.
3. Expand on your notes. When you're finished reading the draft, go back over the notes you took. Between the notes and the reading of your draft, you should now have a better idea of things you want to work on. Turn your notes into a plan for rewriting, even if its just a to-do list. This will help you enormously.
4. Look for places to go deeper. Rewriting is most often a process of adding to, not removing, contrary to popular opinion. Far and away the biggest problem I see in scenes is that they are not developed enough. There's not enough description, not enough scene-setting, not enough of the viewpoint character's thoughts. As an experiment, choose a paragraph at random from your draft and pull it apart and add to it. You might hear this referred to as unpacking.
5. Remember that rewriting begets more rewriting. Because once you've changed certain areas of the story, other areas are revealed. You've gotten the character arcs straightened out, so now the parts of the plot that need work are evident. And so on.
Those are my tips. By the way, an excellent book to use as a guide for rewriting a novel is: Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook, by Donald Maass. (The companion book is Writing The Breakout Novel, but I don't find it as helpful.) Another, more general title, is The Artful Edit, by Susan Bell.
What are you best tips for approaching the rewrite? Do you find any books especially helpful?